A Florida Keys couple behind Harmony International, a travel business accused of taking thousands of dollars for trips that never happened, is now facing criminal charges in California.
Brad and Margaret Matheson have been charged in San Diego County with more than 90 felony counts and two misdemeanor counts, including embezzlement and failing to provide refunds.
“Harmony International advertised a band trip to Japan to four area high schools,” said Gina Darvas, a San Diego Deputy District Attorney assigned to the Matheson case.. “[They] took money from people for that trip and then cancelled the trip and failed to refund the money.”
Miami-Dade County police arrested Brad Matheson on November 10. Margaret Matheson was arrested in Georgia on November 15.
A total of 70 people (students and parents) from several high schools in San Diego signed up for a trip that was supposed to take them to Japan this summer. Parents told NBC Responds they contacted the California Attorney General’s office after seeing initial reports.
“I think the coverage helped organize the parents so they could go forward and make the complaints,” said Darvas. “I think the fact that there was some coverage led them to look for what recourse they had.”
In a press release, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said, “These defendants took money from the students and their families, then turned around and spent it on business and personal expenses instead of honoring their agreement.”
The San Diego County District Attorney’s office and the California Attorney General said the total amount of money lost by the high school band students and their parents there is $99,000 and 32 victims were identified in the indictment.
But they aren’t the only ones who say they paid Harmony International for trips and were left waiting for their money. Earlier this year, NBC 6 Responds found other groups around the country dealing with similar circumstances, including one at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, where Jeremiah Carreras and his bandmates say they paid hundreds of dollars for a trip to New York that was cancelled.
“I know that people went and got jobs off the side of the school to help their parents make the payments for it,” Carreras told NBC 6 Responds back then.
No charges have been filed against the Mathesons in Florida. The Florida Attorney General’s office told NBC 6 Responds they have an active consumer protection investigation, but would not comment further.
Attorneys representing the couple did not comment on the charges filed in California.
Harmony International filed for bankruptcy in May. The trustee assigned to the case was trying to work out an arrangement to see if anyone could be paid any money back. The bankruptcy case is still pending.