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May 30, 2013

LITTLE ROCK – Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced today that a travel agent accused of taking money without providing a promised trip to Hawaii for two Arkansas marching bands has been ordered to pay more than $4 million in penalties and restitution as a result of his actions.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Collins Kilgore ordered Ope Saaga to pay $407,003.93 in restitution to consumers and $3.86 million in civil penalties. Kilgore had earlier issued a default judgment against Saaga, who operated Performing Hawaii Tours.

McDaniel filed suit against the travel agent last year, accusing him of violating the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by failing to provide the travel services paid for by the Fort Smith Southside High School band and the east Arkansas-based “Spirit of Arkansas” band. Saaga never responded to the State’s lawsuit against him and was not present at today’s hearing.

“Band members worked hard to raise enough money to pay for a trip to Hawaii, and this travel agent left them without the promised trip and without their money,” McDaniel said. “I am grateful to the Court for awarding restitution to these families, and my office will do everything it can to make sure the defendant fulfills his obligations under the order.”

Saaga had advertised that band members would have “the trip of a lifetime.” He promised to provide roundtrip airfare, a full-time tour guide, destination tours and the chance to perform at Pearl Harbor. He also said he would provide travel insurance, but he did not even purchase that with the money he had received from the bands.

Saaga received about $262,500 from members of the Southside band and about $135,000 from the “Spirit of Arkansas.”

Saaga had informed Southside band officials last year of his inability to meet his obligations. He told the band director he had made “terrible” decisions regarding the band's pre-payments and promised to return the money. No refunds were made.