Tuesday, April 2, 2013/lk
One year has passed since Hood River travel agent Sue Collins, owner of Cascade Travel, left Kay Ericksen and her daughter Sarah Keller of Hood River scrambling for Disneyland vacation airline tickets at triple the price, just hours before their flight was to take off. The family had paid for their trip months in advance.
That crisis and additional unauthorized charges to the family’s credit card account led the family to file felony theft charges against Collins with the Hood River Police Department. Once Collins’ dealings were investigated and made public, dozens of other former customers stepped forward to share similar tales.
With a sense of relief for many former customers, Collins’ business activities in Hood River have now come to an official close. With a March 15 Hood River Circuit Court judgement, some of Collins’ victims will receive monetary restitution and she has been prohibited from engaging in business activities that involve the acceptance of cash or credit cards without probation officer approval.
Through a negotiated plea deal in a sentencing hearing before Judge Paul Crowley, Collins pleaded guilty to one count of Class A misdemeanor theft in the first degree. She also agreed to pay a total of $14,188.19 in restitution to cover losses of 11 individuals.
Collins already lost a civil case in August 2012 and was ordered to pay $9,346.49 in restitution to Mark Flaming, another former customer, for unauthorized travel costs charged to his credit card account, made between February and July of 2011.
In the criminal case, Crowley also sentenced Collins to serve 160 hours of community service with the department of community corrections, and to undergo supervised probation for 16 months.
When summarizing the case against Collins, Hood River District Attorney John Sewell told Crowley, “To use the common vernacular, this was a case where Peter was getting robbed to pay Paul as Ms. Collins was attempting to keep her business afloat.”
Hood River Police Detective Don Cheli investigated the Flaming and Ericksen cases and more than 35 additional complaints, many involving late or nonexistent ticket bookings, vacation package downgrades after payments for higher packages and credit card charges placed to one customer’s account on behalf of a different customer.
According to Flaming, Sewell did not choose to press felony charges based on his case when it was brought to him in December 2011, citing concerns that needed witnesses from involved airline reservations and ticketing transactions would be challenging to bring in for trial.
Sewell later did charge Collins with felony theft in the Ericksen case on Aug. 6, 2012.
Expressing frustration following Collins’ sentencing, Ericksen said, “I’d like to say that it has been one year since our case occurred with Ms. Collins. I never thought it would take this long. ... I’m not happy how the process went. I’ll be happy if I get paid. I’ll be happy I put up with the year if it means she is no longer selling tickets to someone else ... I can’t say I am really satisfied. I have never spoken with anyone from the D.A.’s office except for the call I initiated to Gloria Needham.”
Sewell responded to Ericksen’s statements and said, “One of the reasons this did go on so long is because there were other victims and as they continued to come forward, and we received additional information, that required us to wade through that and see what was what ... and that took time.”
Sewell earlier articulated the State’s position with regards to Collins’ fraudulent business practices in court.
“The State would like to acknowledge that the defendant ... is not the kind of person we typically prosecute on a daily basis. That being said, there were a lot of people ... who had difficulties with their travel as a result of Ms. Collins’ activities.
“A reasonable person could conclude that her business began to suffer in terms of income and outgo,” continued Sewell.
“She engaged in transactions with a number of clients who ... did not receive tickets that they had paid for and a there were a number of instances where customers had items charged to their account that were not for their trip and, investigation revealed, actually went to other clients.”
Collins’ attorney, Brian Starns, attempted to close the sentencing by making a case that Collins was not criminal in her actions but was instead conducting business poorly.
“Before I got the letters J.D. after my name I had the letters C.P.A. There is a point at which what was a civil matter becomes criminal ... I’m satisfied that we’ve gone beyond that with the number of individual cases here.”
According to a recent post on Collins’ Facebook account, she has moved from Hood River.