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Agent carries the day in passport suit

By Nadine Godwin

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A small claims court here ruled in favor of a travel agent who was sued by a German client who claimed the agent should have warned her to carry her passport when traveling from the U.S. to Mexico.
The agent, Peggy Jensen, sold a SunTrips Cancun package to a group more than a year ago, when she was employed by All Points Travel in San Mateo, Calif.
Jensen dealt only with the group leader. She said the leader mentioned that one woman in the group was a German national who had traveled to Mexico before and "knew what to do."
The client, carrying only her green card as documentation, was refused accommodations in October 2002 on North American Airlines, the carrier chartered by SunTrips. Jensen said the client bought a ticket on American and traveled to Mexico anyway.
The customer sued Jensen but not her employer, arguing Jensen was liable.
Initially, the small-claims court agreed, but Jensen -- using the services of attorney Al Anolik as advisor and expert witness -- appealed to a different judge in the same court.
The second judge sided with the agent on the grounds that determining entry requirements is a question of law and travel agents aren't the appropriate source for legal advice.
It turns out the SunTrips brochure included advice that was ambiguous: "Foreign residents of the U.S. require a green card or acceptable visa in their valid passport or both."
Jensen said she never discussed this with the customer and was not asked. Jensen, whose employer has since closed its San Mateo office, now is an independent contractor for All Wynds Travel in San Mateo.
Two Florida agents accused of fraud
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Two travel agents here were accused of fraud in the handling of client funds.
The first, Woodruff Slappey, ran a storefront, cruise-focused agency here called A World of Travel and was arrested in June and formally charged with a scheme to defraud. His case is set for trial in December.
According to state attorney Steve Siegel, the agent collected deposits for cruises from about 35 clients, but did not forward the funds to the cruise lines. As a result, he said, clients are out about $30,000.
Siegel said the defendant appeared to be trying to keep the agency afloat.
The second agent, Sharon Angela Leisher, owner of the storefront Five Star Travel in Jacksonville, was arrested Oct. 1 and is expected to be arraigned soon. At the arrest, she was accused of grand theft and schemes to defraud, Siegel said.
In this case, he said, Leisher held cash payments for trips and used the credit cards of other customers without authorization to pay for the newly booked trips.
Siegel said he is uncertain how long the credit cards were being used in this manner or how much money is involved, but he estimated the losses to clients and suppliers will exceed $100,000. -- N.G.