Consumers Warned About Travel Agency Operators
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) _ A judge ordered a travel agency Friday to temporarily stop operating in Texas after it booked an international ″dream″ cruise plagued by broken toilets and air conditioning and a crew mutiny.
State District Judge Emilio Garza granted a temporary injunction against Golden CruiseTours and two of its affiliates, who are accused of deceptive advertising. The state contends that customers were bilked of hundreds of thousands of dollars when their trips were canceled and their money was not refunded.
Assistant Attorney General Raul Noriega said he would warn authorities in other states about the agency’s owners, Fernando Inigo and his wife, Lorna, of San Antonio.
The Inigos, two of five defendants named in a state lawsuit, have not been seen since the ship Galaxy experienced problems on a cruise earlier this month.
″I wouldn’t at all be surprised that they are going to try to do this again, using a different name in a different state or country. Maybe they might appeal to the Europen market,″ Noriega said.
″They are going to wait a few months, I suspect, to let all the hubbub die down and give them some time to finish fixing the ship and getting cleaned up and making it presentable,″ he said.
Noriega said at least 2,000 consumers paid the travel agency $2,000 each for 36 future tours on the ship. He said he has received more than 150 telephone calls from people nationwide who said they paid the travel agency for future trips.
″We have told them not to expect their money back. We’ll do everything the can, maybe we can arrest the boat and sell it, but we told them not to expect anything at this time,″ Noriega said.
Noriega said the Galaxy is worth about $1 million and is expected to be in Spain sometime next week.
The ship is owned by Global Cruises of Panama, one of the affiliates named in the suit, of which Inigo owns 5 percent, Noriega said.
According to authorities, the cruise ship departed Acapulco on Feb. 12 and Fernando Inigo left it at a stop in Guatemala, promising to reboard in Costa Rica with money for the crew.
Inigo never returned and the crew mutinied, stranding the passengers, who were left in Panama City on Feb. 21.
Noriega said Golden CruiseTours booked passengers on another ship last fall and complaints sparked an investigation into the travel agency.
He said the Coast Guard saw nothing wrong with the Galaxy after it inspected the ship before it departed San Diego for Acapulco in January.
Although the travel brochure touted the cruises as a ″dream cruise,″ many passengers complained it was a nightmare, complete with greasy fried chicken, broken air conditioning and backed-up toilets, Noriega said.
″It was a combination of a little bit of greed, some bad luck, poor business judgment, some overly optimistic projections, probably a healthy dose of deceptition and lying, plus the storms at sea and you mix all together and you get these results,″ Noriega.
A trial on the deceptive advertising suit has been set for April 29.
″It’s kind of incredible story. The series of events in all this had me on the edge of my seat the last two to three months,″ Noriega said.
Three other defendants, Fernando Mendrillo, Fermin Gutierrez and Manuel Fernandez, maintain only postal boxes in San Antonio.
Morris J. Kirschberg, an attorney for Golden CruiseTours, did not return telephone calls seeking comment Friday.