Today’s news:

Astoria travel agency refunds scam victims

Refund checks are being distributed this month to more than 200 customers who were ripped off two years ago by an Astoria travel agency that went out of business before providing airline tickets the travelers had already paid for.

After an investigation by the state attorney general, a court order was issued in June for Plus Ultra Tours that said the travel agency violated state consumer protection laws by accepting payments for travel services, failing to provide those services and not providing refunds, according to Justice Sherry Heitler of State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Heitler ordered Plus Ultra Tours to pay $272,000 in refunds to the customers. The amount will provide about 70 percent of the amount owed, which ranges in amounts from $185 to $3,722, according to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

The remainder of the funds owed by Plus Ultra Tours in the judgment is being sought by the Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office, according to Christine Pritchard, his spokeswoman.

“If we can locate additional assets, we will use that to provide the remainder of the refunds,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard did not give the name or the whereabouts of Plus Ultra Tour’s owner.

Spitzer said the customers were stranded when the travel agency suddenly closed its office in June 2002, while about 200 customers had pre-paid for direct charter flights for the families to return to Galicia, Spain to spend their summer holidays with relatives and friends.

“Although the abrupt cancellation of a much anticipated family reunion and summer vacation is a distressing ordeal, these refunds are substantial and will help to compensate many families for a significant portion of their losses,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer’s office launched the investigation into Plus Ultra Tours company after receiving numerous complaints from customers in the summer of 2002. The investigation revealed the travel agency had transferred $270,000 in company funds into several personal and corporate accounts at three different banks.

In December 2002, Spitzer sued the company and its owners for consumer fraud and obtained a restraining order freezing both the corporate and personal accounts. The money in those funds is being refunded to the ripped-off customers, according to Spitzer.

Reach Reporter Tom Nicholson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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