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Cruise package doesn't deliver

February 01, 2000|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Scott and Kim Schoppert's Christmas gift to each other was a long-planned 7-day Southern Caribbean cruise scheduled to leave Feb. 13.

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Starting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas would stop in St. Thomas, Martinique, Barbados, Antigua and St. Maarten, according to the itinerary the Falling Waters, W.Va., couple received months ago from the travel agent.

On Monday, the Schopperts learned the $1,300 they had turned over to an employee of CW Travel in Hagerstown didn't buy the promised cabin on the cruise ship or their air fare, Scott Schoppert said.

Doing some checking after the date they were to receive the tickets was changed several times, once because of snow, Schoppert said he was told by representatives of Royal Caribbean Cruises and American Airlines that no tickets in his name existed.

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According to Schoppert, more than 200 other local people - 14 of them friends and relatives of his and about 230 affiliated with City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va. - booked and paid for the same cruise package as part of a group deal through the travel agency.

He said the rest of his group of 16, which was able to piggyback on the special group rate the hospital group was getting, are in the same boat as he and his wife.

"It's a huge mess," said Schoppert, 35, who's working with another travel agency to try to salvage his and his wife's vacation.

Schoppert said he went to Hagerstown City Police and was told to bring in receipts, canceled checks and other records, which he said he is in the process of gathering.

The Hagerstown Police Department is looking into complaints that the agency sold cruise packages it isn't delivering, Hagerstown Police Lt. Gary Spielman said.

Police have interviewed some people and will interview more about the matter, Spielman said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, police hadn't determined whether a criminal investigation was warranted or whether they're dealing with a contractual situation that would be considered a civil rather than a criminal matter, he said.

Schoppert said he paid for the vacation in full with a combination of personal checks made out to the travel agency and a cashier's check made out to its general manager, Rebecca Price, who was to have handled all the arrangements.

He said he hasn't been able to get in touch with Price and was told by CW Travel owner Michael M. Pishvaian that he didn't know anything about the group booking.

Tuesday afternoon, a recording of a female voice on the travel agency's answering machine said the office would be "closed until further notice" and apologized for any inconvenience.

A visitor to the agency at 29-33 E. Washington St. at about 1:45 p.m. found the door locked but no sign explaining why the office was closed during normal operating hours. Two people were visible in a back office but didn't respond to repeated knocking.

A local telephone listing for Price wasn't available. Several messages left on her cellular phone answering machine Tuesday afternoon were not returned.

Pishvaian could not be reached for comment at his businesses Tuesday afternoon. He did not respond to messages left at the travel agency and at his restaurant.

Pishvaian's home telephone number is not listed and directory assistance said they had no listing under that name in the Poolesville, Md., area where he lives.

City Hospital spokeswoman Christy Polak said Tuesday afternoon that the hospital had no comment and wouldn't confirm a hospital group had booked a package with the travel agency.

Tuesday morning, Rose Straley, director of volunteers at the hospital, said an 11 a.m. meeting was scheduled to discuss the cruise matter.

Michael T. Myers said he and his wife have been excited about going on the Caribbean cruise, which they gave to each other for Christmas and Valentine's Day.

Myers, 49, of Martinsburg, who owns a video store in Martinsburg next to Schoppert's printing business, said he learned from Schoppert that he wasn't booked for the cruise. Schoppert had acted as coordinator for his friends' and relatives' trips, Myers said.

"You hate to give up something you dream of for so long," Myers said. "I'm still praying I'll get my money back."

Staff Writer Brendan Kirby contributed to this story.

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