Glen Burnie travel agent pleads guilty to 23 theft and bad check charges

October 27, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A Glen Burnie travel agent accused of bilking airlines and travelers out of more than $62,000 pleaded guilty yesterday to 23 counts of theft and bad check charges.

Cheryl A. Riley, 46, of the 100 block of Phelps Ave., pleaded guilty to 16 counts of felony theft, six counts of felony bad check charges and one count of misdemeanor theft before Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme.

Riley agreed to plead guilty after Judge Thieme told Rene Butta, her public defender, that any incarceration imposed at the Dec. 7 sentencing would be at the county detention center rather than in the state prison system.

According to a statement read in court, Riley took checks sent by customers to her travel agency, Why Not Travel, on Fort Smallwood Road in Pasadena and would cash them. But she would not purchase the airline tickets or book the hotel rooms for which they were intended, Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said.

Mr. Roessler said Riley also managed All About Travel, an agency on Willow Street in Annapolis, where she bilked money from the airlines.

He said seven airlines lost more than $50,000 and 10 customers lost another $12,000 in 1990 and 1991.

"The tickets to the flights were sold, the money was paid to her by customers, but never forwarded from her to the airlines," Mr. Roessler said.

He said the investigation started in January when Shirley Ann Hiebler of Pasadena told state police she was cheated after she'd booked a cruise on Carnival Cruise lines through Riley in 1991 by making a $400 cash deposit. She later made another payment of $700.

Ms. Hiebler, who was making the reservation on behalf of a group of 28 people, called Carnival to confirm the reservations a few weeks before the trip, but was told the cruise line had never received payment, Mr. Roessler said.

When Ms. Hiebler tried to call Riley, she learned her telephone had been disconnected.

Throughout 1991, other customers arrived at resorts such as Cancun and Disney World, only to be told bills still had to be paid for their hotel rooms and rental cars.

Robert Lemirer of Riviera Beach said he went to Riley in November to book a honeymoon cruise for his daughter and son-in-law because "her office was right in the neighborhood."

He paid $1,400 for a Carnival Cruise to the Bahamas, but learned one week before the couple's Jan. 13, 1992, wedding that the cruise line had never received payment.

"My wife tried to call her [Riley] a million times, but she never got through. This was right before the wedding, too, when there were a million different things going on. But we just couldn't find her," he said.

As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Roessler said, he has agreed not to make any recommendation on a prison sentence. But he will ask that customers be reimbursed a total of $12,000.

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