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Travel agent Sue Collins loses small claims case

Mark Flaming awarded $9,346 after proving unauthorized credit card use

With charges on his credit card account totaling over $42,000 for flights that actually cost closer to $18,000, Mark Flaming, of Hood River, sought a civil judgement against Cascade Travel owner Sue Collins in the court room of Judge John A. Olson on Aug. 22.

Flaming requested from Collins $9,346.49 as reimbursement for unauthorized travel costs charged to his credit card account, between February and July of 2011.

The total demand was based on the balance owed to Flaming after refunds from his credit card company and a single incomplete refund payment from Collins had been obtained, following a months-long struggle to retrieve his money from Collins.

Olson ruled in Flaming’s favor following a review of Flaming’s claim, the supporting documentation, testimony of Hood River Police Det. Don Cheli, Hood River attorney Jay Sherrerd and Collins’ own statements on the day of the trial.

The judgement was awarded under civil, not criminal, court jurisdiction. Flaming stated that Cheli brought the case details to District Attorney John Sewell in December of 2011. Flaming reported that criminal charges had not yet been filed by the D.A.’s office. Sewell was not reached for comment before press time on Friday morning.

Flaming’s civil, small claims case outlined a set of two travel experiences booked through Cascade Travel. In both events, Flaming’s credit cards had been charged twice for air travel he undertook. Flaming asserted that the duplicate charges were made without his knowledge or authorization.

Flaming stated that he was able to negotiate with his credit card company directly for a refund of the unauthorized charges initiated by Collins in the amount of approximately $10,000, leaving close to $15,000 still outstanding.

He has been seeking reimbursement for those outstanding funds since last year.

Collins, in her defense during the trial, chose to make statements before Olson attempting to assign blame to the airlines for the double charges, offering a detailed explanation of mishaps and re-bookings.

Officer Cheli was able, in his investigation and responding testimony, to present documentation countering Collins’ version.

Collins, in her statement, asserted that one of the duplicate credit card charges resulted from an air carrier “reissuing tickets as a result of flight cancellations.” She went on to state that the company must have “used the existing charge card information on file” to make the second charge.

Cheli presented testimony and documentation from the named air carrier’s fraud department that contradicted Collins – noting that the original ticket costs Collins charged to Flaming did not result in purchased airline tickets. The only set of tickets purchased by Collins were paid for the day before the flight using Flaming’s credit card account a second time.

The air carrier confirmed that there was no “ticket reissuance” for Flaming’s travel nor any earlier purchased tickets. The air carrier also confirmed that without authorization, no charges could be made legally by their company.

Cheli and Flaming went on to testify on the manner in which the duplicate charges were transacted.

According to Cheli, who contacted the travel broker who was responsible for booking the last-minute flights, Collins sent in a credit card authorization sheet to the broker, showing a signature purported to be Flaming’s.

Flaming testified that he had never seen this authorization letter and that the signature thereon was not his. He testified that he had already paid Collins in full for the tickets and had documentation of those original charges on his account.

Flaming provided Olson with an itemized detailed summary of every charge and flight actually taken. The financial details and credit card transactions were reviewed by Olson, including those related to the other duplicate charges.

Flaming also provided copies of email or letter exchanges between himself and Collins and summarized his many interactions with her in attempting to obtain refunds of the unauthorized charges.

In response, Collins said in monotone, “Perhaps I’m not understanding something here,” as she reviewed the documentation.

She repeatedly then stated that Flaming “did fly” on tickets purchased through Cascade Travel. She went on to state, “It seems like I’m being held responsible for tickets that he used.” She denied any responsibility.

Flaming identified all the flights that he succeeded in taking but noted again that duplicate charges had been made for the individual flights he took. He also confirmed that Collins had indicated in previous months that she would refund his money through a negotiated repayment schedule. Collins bounced one repayment check to Flaming and provided just one actual refund payment in the amount of $4,561.68.

During the final moments of the small claims trial, Collins went on to look again at the credit card documentation and said, “Am I looking at this wrong?” to which Judge Olson replied, “Well, I’m about to find for the plaintiff.”

Olson confirmed Collins’ responsibility and awarded the requested funds be paid to Flaming.

In a follow-up email, Flaming stated, “Officer Cheli has done an exemplary job at investigating this matter. He followed up on my complaint immediately and he investigated the case very thoroughly.”

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