Travel agent accused of stealing customers' money

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Vacation dreams were dashed after police say the money people paid to go on luxury vacations went straight into the travel agent's pocket.

Jorge Valmaceda was all packed and ready to go.

"We were planning this trip for a year," he said. "My mother in Nicaragua and my dad too."

For the first time in five years, he, his wife and three kids were flying to Nicaragua to spend Christmas with their family. But when they checked in at the ticket counter last December their vacation came to an end before it even began.

"The person says there is nothing, there is no information, there is no reservation," Valmaceda said.

No reservation, no tickets, no trip.

"Very angry, I cried. I cried, I get very mad," Valmaceda said.

So what happened? HPD says 40-year-old Rosa Elena Echeverria took his cash -- more than $3,800 -- but never booked his tickets.

Echeverria worked as an agent for six months at the Excelsior travel agency at a southwest Houston Fiesta store.

The agency's owner says she didn't find out about the theft until customers began calling from the airport wanting to know why the tickets they paid cash for were not booked.

"She just did an itinerary. She just print it out and she gave it to the clients," agency owner Jeannette Trivino said.

Turns out Echeverria allegedly printed fake itineraries for 151 customers. Most of them were traveling to El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Authorities say she stole a total of $131,000.

Valmaceda still has the suitcase filled with Christmas presents. He says Echeverria stole his cash but she couldn't steal his Christmas spirit -- even if it has to wait until next year.

Echeverria is charged with theft-aggregate. Authorities say she has not yet been arrested.

Meanwhile, Trivino says customers who were scammed are either getting a full refund or being issued new tickets.
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