A San Diego-based travel agent has been charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by more than 150 Southland parents for school trips that were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marie Colette Martin, 52, is accused of spending the funds on personal expenses rather than refunding parents after the trips were canceled.
She has pleaded not guilty to 27 felony counts of grand theft and seller of travel violations. Prosecutors allege more than $415,000 was embezzled in total.
In a statement, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said, “More than 150 California families set aside their hard-earned money to give their children the educational opportunity of a lifetime. Instead, the trip was cancelled, and their money disappeared.”
According to the California Attorney General’s Office, Martin solicited the travel funds from parents at nine schools in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The trips would have sent eighth-grade students from those schools to Washington D.C. and other East Coast locations in 2020, though the pandemic prevented the trips from happening.
When parents sought refunds, Martin allegedly declined, then used the money for personal uses, including credit card purchases, rent and artwork, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Prosecutors say she was unable to refund the parents because she had already been “experiencing cash flow problems and commingling client funds” and had used the parents’ funds for personal expenses.
County jail records do not indicate Martin is in custody, but she is due to appear in a downtown San Diego courtroom next month for a bail review hearing.
“Cheating parents who work hard to give their children educational experiences that will broaden their horizons is a disgrace,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “We stand ready to work with the attorney general on bringing justice to the families who were defrauded out of their hard-earned income.”