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June 1997 Vol. 12, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Sea Safaris Owners Convicted

from the June, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In 1994 and 1995, Sea Safaris Travel, a prominent dive travel agency in Manhattan Beach, California, bilked divers and resorts out of piles of money.

We first learned of the problem when a few of our readers told us that after paying Sea Safaris in advance for their trip, they had arrived at a resort or live-aboard, voucher in hand, and learned their money had not been forwarded. Then we began hearing similar stories from more and more Sea Safaris clients.

Typically, the travelers would make several frantic phone calls; if they got through, they were told there must be an error and everything would get straightened out. Some resorts let the people stay, expecting to collect later from Sea Safaris.

As word of the problem spread, resorts begain requiring Sea Safaris clients to pay again and to seek their refund from the agency. Sea Safaris then took its scam a step further, creating vouchers from fictitious travel agencies to fool the hotels that no longer honored Sea Safaris' vouchers.

We talked several times to the agency's owners, Bob French and Nancy Ackerman French, who denied wrongdoing, blaming the "vicious rumors" on people in the industry out to kill their business. They gave us the run-around on specific cases we cited and could give us no reason for or evidence about the "industry-wide vendetta." We wrote two lengthy reports detailing how their scheme worked, alerting our readers to avoid Sea Safaris, and listing the fictitious names they were using to remain in business.

Still, scores of dive travelers were out of pocket thousands of dollars. Little hotels like Fiji's Garden Isle and Mt. Pleasant Guest House in the Turks and Caicos were owed as much as $20,000. Skin Diver magazine, too, was owed money, and stopped taking their advertisements. Estimates of total losses ran as high as a million dollars.

On March 21, 1997, Bob French pled no contest to four counts of grand theft from Malcom Morgan of Morgan Travel ($4,221), Hal Nachtrieb ($2,326), Paulette Rossi ($2,312), and Joseph Walesky (and 27 other victims, $25,700). His wife, Nancy Ackerman French, pled no contest to the Walesky count.

Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Steve Levine told us that at the May 15 sentencing the Frenches made full restitution and neither will do prison time. Whether other victims step forward remains to be seen.

J. Q.

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