Groups Paid for Dream Trips That Never Happened

Jeremiah Carreras plans to make music his life.

"I play about ten different instruments,” he said soon after graduating from Cypress Bay High School.

For the last four years, he played in the school’s band.

"It’s one of the most important experiences of my life, honestly," he said.

That’s why a planned trip to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York was supposed to be a high school highlight.

Jeremiah’s family and many others from the band paid money in advance to a travel company called Harmony International.

Jeremiah’s mom made about $1,000 in online payments.

But the trip never happened and they say the money they paid disappeared.

“I don’t think I’ve ever paid that much for a band trip before, any trip,” Jeremiah said.

The Cypress Bay group is just one of several across the country who say Harmony International didn’t follow through on planned travel after being paid.

In May 2017, Harmony International filed for bankruptcy.

The couple behind the company, Brad and Margie Matheson, declined to answer NBC 6 Responds’ questions following a recent bankruptcy court hearing in Miami.

Students and parents from several southern California high schools planned a trip through Harmony International to go to Tokyo, Japan for an event called the “International Festival of Wind and Percussion.”

According to the bands’ directors, parents paid more than $150,000 collectively to Harmony International.

But in an email to parents in April, the company said the trip would not be moving forward as planned. The email didn’t mention anything about refunds. 

“I personally was pretty upset,” said student Tyler Thompson. “It almost seems like a once in a lifetime thing. You know when am I ever going to be able to do this again?”

Soon after, the company filed for bankruptcy.

“I’m one of over 200 creditors right now that are owed by Harmony International,” said Steve Zumchak.

Zumchak’s group is from New York and was supposed to be going on tour to Cuba in May, but that trip was also canceled. He says the people in his group are out over $100,000.

He says he grew suspicious of the company after $6,000 in final payments from his group cleared. He believes Brad Matheson was aware their Cuba trip was in jeopardy when the money cleared.

In an email Matheson sent the group's choir director, he wrote he didn't have "good news" and explained complications he said they were encountering with the Cuban government. He also wrote he was “so VERY sorry.”

Zumchak estimated the grand total of all the canceled trips around the country could run close to $1 Million.

"They continued to collect payments up until the date of the cancelation of these trips, even after the cancellation of other trips," said Zumchak.

In court, Margie Matheson acknowledged Harmony International did not have a separate account to hold the money people paid for trips.

A bankruptcy trustee says because of an insurance policy, there’s a chance some people could get some of their money back.

"There may be claims against the owners of the business for failing to set aside money to cover the trips that they were selling and negligently not having that money," explained the bankruptcy trustee Drew Dillworth.

Anyone who believes they are owed money by Harmony International has until September to submit a claim. Once the trustee knows how many claims there are, he can determine the best way to get their money back and how much.

State records show the Mathesons are linked to other companies based out of Key West including a yacht charter company and a sailing academy that was registered three months before the bankruptcy filing.

Click here for the US Bankruptcy Court Proof of Claims Form (PDF)

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