Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett has filed a lawsuit against a Montgomery County tour operator accused of organizing group trips to various religious sites or other destinations without refunding consumers’ payments if the trips were either cancelled or rescheduled. The lawsuit follows an investigation into complaints from consumers located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Illinois, Texas, California, Missouri, Kentucky.
Corbett identified the defendants as Christian Pilgrim Tours Inc., 777 of Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County, John B. Baird Sr., individually, and as operator of the company. The suit accuses the defendants of violating Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
Investigators with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said Baird Sr. through 2005 advertised trips to a variety of destinations including the Holy Land, Jamaica, Guadalupe, Rome, Portugal, Paris, Ireland, Austria and Greece.
The advertisements, placed in Catholic Digest, and other religious publications, promoted tour packages that included round-trip air transportation, ground transportation, hotel accommodations, meals, travel guides and insurance coverage. The 5 to 15 day sightseeing group tours ranged in price from $1,400 to more than $3,000 per person.
Consumers interested in the tours, filled out the registration form and paid a deposit or full amount to reserve the trip. The itinerary for each trip included notice of a five percent discount to those who paid the full amount up front. After registering and submitting payments, consumers were told additional trip information would be mailed to them approximately 30 days prior to the departure date.
Investigators said consumers also received a separate sheet outlining the terms and conditions of the tours, including the cancellation and refund policies. Consumers were told that the tours may be cancelled if there are not enough reservations. Should that occur, the policy claimed that “a full refund would be provided without any other liability.”
If consumers canceled, they were instructed to notify the company in writing that they are unable to attend. In those cases, the refunds would vary depending on how close the cancellation notification is to the scheduled departure date. If the consumers canceled, Christian Pilgrim Tours reportedly said it would issue refunds six to eight weeks after the completion of the tour.
“Our lawsuit accuses the defendant of failing to reimburse consumers who complied with his refund policy,” Corbett said. “Several consumers entitled to refunds have been waiting more than a year to be reimbursed. Others who were forced to cancel their trips because of scheduling conflicts, emergencies or illnesses claimed that it took months to receive their refunds, despite repeated calls to the company. In at least two instances, the refund checks Baird Sr. sent to consumers could not be cashed due to insufficient funds. The failure to honor these policies directly violates the laws that protect consumers.”
Corbett said a priest from Manahawkin, New Jersey is one of several consumers that is entitled to restitution in the lawsuit. The priest paid Baird Sr. $2,799 for the Greece/Turkey tour package that was scheduled to take place in April 2004. He told investigators the defendant cancelled the trip without explanation and has yet to refund his money.
The lawsuit asks the court to require the defendants to:
– Pay restitution to eligible consumers who filed complaints or who come forward with claims of similar harm.
– Pay civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and $3,000 for each violation involving a consumer age 60 or older.
– Pay the Commonwealth’s investigation costs.
– Forfeit their right to conduct business in the state until restitution, civil penalties and investigation costs are paid.
The lawsuit was filed in Montgomery County Court. The case is being litigated by Senior Deputy Attorney General Henry Hart III of the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in Philadelphia.
Was this article valuable?
Here are more articles you may enjoy.