No contest: Vissers agrees to pay back agents

Under the plea, Vissers gets no jail time nor fine, but agrees to make restitution to his agent victims.

By Bob Mervine and Henry Magenheim
ORLANDO -- A no-contest plea was entered by ex-travel agent Richard Henri Vissers, of Palm Bay, Fla., accused by Florida law enforcement officials of bilking four travel agents out of some $202,000 in an airline ticketing scam based on fictitious wholesale ticketing authorization codes.

Orange County Circuit Court Judge Bob Wattles has the discretion to treble the losses and to require Vissers to reimburse one of the California witnesses who came to testify for the $2,400 full fare air ticket she was required to buy.

In addition, the state will seek reimbursement for its costs in preparing for trial, according to Tom Sedaca, state prosecutor.

Judge Wattles stated that his priority was "to get these people back their money."

Under the plea, Vissers gets no jail time nor fine, but agrees to make restitution to his agent victims, including Gateway Travel, Pleasonton, Calif.; Osceola Travel, Kissimmee, Fla.; DA Travel & Tours, Orlando, and Global Travel Tours, Melbourne, Fla.

HMI Travel, Herndon, Va., also lost funds to Vissers, but it was not part of this case.

Vissers entered the plea as he was about to go on trial, with a jury panel waiting to hear the case.

If found guilty, he faced a prison sentence of up to 30 years. A 1999 indictment charged him with organized to defraud, a felony under Florida law.

Vissers' restitution hearing will be held March 26, during which a schedule of payments and his probationary period will be determined. .

In California, Gateway Travel last year filed a $150,000 suit against Vissers and a commercial client he represented, Automatic Data Processing, which has offices in Roseland, N.J. and San Ramon, Calif.

The scam Vissers was charged with perpetrating involved the issuance by the agents of discounted air tickets for which the agents received a flat fee. The tickets were for employees of commercial accounts, all referred by Vissers.

Vissers instructed the agents to use specific wholesale discount and AD 75 codes {for entry in the tour box}.

These discounts had been "negotiated" with the airlines involved, Vissers told agents.

But months later auditors for Continental, Delta and others sent the agents debit memos for the actual fare, less the discount, because the codes were nonexistent. The airlines also maintained that they had no relationship with Vissers.

The debit memos caused financial hardship on the agents as well as legal expenses. Vissers was paid separately by the commercial accounts for the savings he arranged.

Before he started his own firm, Computer Travel Systems, Melbourne, Fla., in the mid 1990s, Vissers had run a retail agency, Beach Side Travel, also in Melbourne. The agency was declared in default by the ARC and it was terminated in 1994.

During an interview at the courthouse here, Vissers told Travel Weekly that he believed that the agents' claims should have been treated as a civil matter. He agreed to the plea bargain because of the stiff jail term involved.

Vissers said that he currently operates a business involved in producing software related to employee background checks.

While he remains free on $100,000 bond, he is permitted to travel within the U.S.

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