Owasso Woman's Dream Trip Stalled By Bankrupt Travel Agent

Monday, September 21st 2015, 6:40 pm
By: News On 6

An Owasso family is devastated after paying $40,000 for a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation, only to find out the travel agent they paid never used that money to book the trip. They learned they weren't leaving on Sunday as planned, after the agent filed bankruptcy on Friday afternoon.

The owner of Ron's Hamburgers in Owasso dreamed of celebrating her 50th birthday this week with 15 of her closest family and friends in Aruba - only to learn a few days before they were supposed to leave, that the money was gone and there's no trip.

"We've had signs in the windows, told our regulars, they were all excited for us to go to Aruba: 'you guys work so hard, you deserve this,'" said business owner Rhonda Hager.

Rhonda and 15 family members have been paying money for more than a year to Michael DeVilbiss at Cruise Desk, LLC, to book their flights and hotel rooms. He sent her hotel and flight confirmation numbers and Friday, said he was bringing her all the travel documents.

"Three o'clock, I get a text: 'I'm on my way,'" Hager said. "He's not on his way. He's filing bankruptcy. He's not on his way. I'm lied to til the end. He planned this. He knew he was taking our money the whole time."

She was devastated. Everyone had closed their businesses and arranged animal and childcare.

"He crushed my dream - been planning and booking for a year, and he crushed it," said Rhonda Hager.

Tarey Stubblefield spent January to August paying DeVilbiss for a family vacation for this Thanksgiving and had put a deposit down for a February cruise, for a total of $2,800. Now, he finds out the six-bedroom home he thought he booked never received his money.

"How do you sleep, doing this to somebody else, knowing that you're just taking their money?" he asked. 

I went to DeVilbiss' office. The sign is down, the door locked, although travel brochures remain inside. We learned he's several months behind on his rent. His bankruptcy attorney says there is an insurance policy, and customers can file claims to try get their money back.

As for Rhonda, there is some good news. Her dad told her if she could rebook the trip last minute, he would pay the entire price. With the help of Brad Johnson at Spear Travel, they got it done, and they are leaving for Aruba Tuesday.

Devilbiss tells Lori his business unexpectedly lost tens of thousands of dollars in early spring, and he struggled with the decision to file bankruptcy. He said he's saddened by this decision and is hoping to make it right for the 15 or so customers affected.

Here's his entire statement:

No one is losing money.... that is incorrect.  The company after a great deal of discussion with our attorney... it was determined that the best option was to place the company into bankruptcy.  Before making this final decision the attorney confirmed that those were affected could be covered by our guarantee and insurance.  All customers affected have been advised to contact the attorney who has the procedures to obtain a timely refund.

Very few of our guest were affected by this action... we are hurt that we had to undertake the action we did... we have no intention to harm any of our customers and we know just getting the refunds make it right... If when the assets are dispersed we hope we can do more for any guest that was directly affected

As you know we must and are following the directions of attorney's and rules bankruptcy court.

We have tried to apologize many times to those who have contacted you... but they have a right to be mad and not understand why the action was taken. 

But we sincerely are saddened by what by the decision we had to make and look forward to working our way through this while protect our customers and the trust they placed in us.

With over one million dollars in sales from 2014 to 2015 this action has only affected a very small portions of our customers and we are working hard to make sure they are taken care of ..

To explain all in the manner you have asked is somewhat long and detailed....  and based on the current legal situation I would like to reserve a great deal of comment with proper direction from Mr. Chapman.  I will say that due to some issues back in February and March we had a financial hit to the business which resulted in the unexpected loss of tens of thousands of dollars of revenue.  It has been since that time we have struggled to bring the company back to its original standing. But we were unable to recover from the loss.  The operating expenses became greater while the business was unable to recover its base business.   How many were affected. it would be between 12 and 15...out of those, some received confirmed and paid travel that they still have today. Some of the Vendors were paid for travel but as our decision became apparent... We had others in the one affected group that right up to the day we filed the bankruptcy that were receiving refunds, once the filing was done there were still a small handful we had been unable to accommodate at that time.

how is the guaranteed insurance supposed to work... i am not an insurance person but in speaking with Mr. Chapman. .  My business was covered by insurance that the courts should allow to be utilized as it was a good and standing policy for coverage.  I wish I could better explain but that is not an area of specialty for me nor is bankruptcy. ..

We feel terrible and not only want but expect to somehow make things right for those affected...  and as we work our way through this will find a way to do just that

I have never had to contend with an issue like this.  On that Thursday evening was when the final decision to file was made.  I let customers know within just a couple of hours after the decision was made.  I did not want to do anything without direction from the attorney.... which we spoke I told him I wanted to let those being affected know...they were asking and to stop the bleed of refunds we were doing we continued to make statements that business was still progressing until we had the matter filed.  that Friday morning I sent Mr. Chapman a copy of the email I wanted to send out rather than await for the courts to send notice.. I truly wanted everyone to know and I fought with decision  

Our company has NEVER been sued for nonpayment by a customer  We did go through a suit against two previous agents that started stealing our customer files...This is when we were really began getting or feeling the effects... they took customer's files that included the trips documents how much was paid and even contact information. For the guest and vendors.   .  we spent almost two months rebuilding what we could of the files to continue so we could to hand the customers... these included weddings.... honeymoons etc.  even without the files.  The agents made agreements with companies we did not have contracts with and caused us to put out revenue we had to unexpectedly had to pay out... As we had to base most of the information on the guest's word...  that is the only suit we have been through and in doing so we sued them for the loss in income of $104,090.  We knew we could not get our monies back but the whole time we just wanted the files so we could help our customers.

As for advising guest about financial issues....  we have always been successful in our business.  When a business does encounter issues... i Do not know any company that tells its customers it is having financial issues.... and works to successfully rebound from those downfalls...but this is also why I discussed the with Mr. Chapman what was going on so I knew if I was making the right decision.

The agents referenced in the above statement issued a response, below:

Here is our statement: It is absurd we even have to spend time to address this, but it has come to our attention that Mr. DeVilbiss is spreading lies about us and implying we are the cause of his failed business. We worked for several months as independent agents for The Cruise Desk and only received a small fraction of our earned commission. We sued The Cruise Desk/Michael DeVilbiss for our unpaid commission. DeVilbiss filed a counter claim for $28k claiming false information which he was never able to substantiate. It was obvious we would never collect any money from DeVilbiss so we chose to settle the case in mediation and move on. The "stolen" files were our own files that we created to reference our own customers. They were never in his possession. He always had access to our customer's booking information. He made it impossible for us to continue to service our clients. Upon request, the physical files were made available to DeVilbiss. He said he would arrange to pick them up but failed to do so. This is an unfortunate situation for the customers involved and the industry. We wish the customers all the success in recouping their money.

The Better Business Bureau sent the following letter to Michael DeVilbiss, asking that their logo be removed from a website affiliated with his business: 

Dear Michael DeVilbiss:
It has come to our attention that your business, The Cruise Desk LLC, is displaying the BBB® Accredited Business seal or on your website at http://www.avoyatravel.com.  Such use implies that you are affiliated with the BBB, yet our records show that you are not a BBB Accredited Business.
The Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. (“CBBB”) is the owner of many famous marks, including Better Business Bureau®, the BBB Torch logo and BBB. These marks are federally registered in the U.S. and in other countries for business information and investigative services (U.S. Reg. Nos. 566,415, 969,847, 971,579, and 2,314,197). 

Your business's use of the BBB Accredited Business seal without permission constitutes trademark infringement and is a violation of CBBB’s trademark rights. Moreover, this use may constitute false and deceptive advertising in violation of state or federal statutes because it falsely implies BBB endorsement or affiliation. 

Accordingly, we must demand that you immediately remove the infringing trademark from the website, http://www.avoyatravel.com/, where it is displayed and any other places where you may be using it. We request that you provide us with assurances that you have done so. Please indicate your agreement by responding within seven business days. 

If we do not receive the requested assurances, we will take further appropriate steps to protect our trademark rights, which may include suspension of your website and downgrading your BBB Business Review rating, and custom text in your company report.  If you have any questions please call me at 918-295-2409 or email me at amitchell@tulsabbb.org.

Enclosed: Copy of the Advertisement with violation.

Michael DeVilbiss' response to the BBB letter:

you may wish to direct your concern regarding any violation to Ayoa/American Express Travel as I have no control over licensing with that company.

But just as a note I would be surprised if Ayoa/American Express Travel is not associated with the BBC But I will forward your demand and notice of violation to the company which authorized the use of all company names and associated logos.