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Trial begins for travel agent accused of theft

June 23, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Allegations that a former CW Travel Inc. manager stole more than $23,000 from her clients five years ago were brought to a bench trial Tuesday in Washington County Circuit Court.

Rebecca Calimer Price, 30, of 32 E. Baltimore St. in Greencastle, Pa., waived her right to a jury trial and chose for a Circuit Court judge to hear the case against her.

She was indicted in December 2003 on six counts of felony theft in connection with dealings involving her clients in late 1999 and early 2000.

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At her trial Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Paul Budlow said he would proceed with the trial on just five counts.

In his opening statement, Budlow said, "This is a case about theft and - most importantly - about deception."

Budlow said that five years ago Price sold a Caribbean group cruise to Enjoy Growing Older Inc. at a rate of about $700 per person, which included seven days and seven nights, round trip air fare, taxes and fees.

Budlow said Price requested that the coordinator of the group of senior citizens and a woman who piggybacked onto the trip make checks payable to her because, in a time crunch, she had to take money from her personal account to make deposits on the cruise, which never materialized.

"She sold trips that she never booked at rates she couldn't deliver," he said.

Budlow said Price sold books of vouchers for four domestic first-class airline tickets at a price of $1,000 and sold books of vouchers for international flights at a similar rate.

One of the people who was sold such a package, Terry Randall, testified Tuesday that he issued a $6,000 check to Price for vouchers he planned to give as gifts and use for himself in December 1999 because Price told him she had to wire money "to the airline quickly" from her account on his behalf.

He said that later, after hearing from a friend that the agency closed, he took the vouchers to an airline in Florida, but found they could not be honored. Randall testified that he was not reimbursed.

Price's defense attorney, John Salvatore, said in his opening statement that he agreed Price asked that checks be made payable to her, but, he said, she had "no criminal intent."

"Things were chaotic at CW Travel," he said, and Price had not worked there long before she was "thrust into the role of manager."

The business was losing money, Salvatore said, and checks were bouncing regularly at the time. She created a "pyramid scheme" to help get the business back on top, but "money ultimately runs out and that's what happened," he said.

"I don't think the state's going to be able to show - by any stretch of the imagination - that she was using this money" on herself, Salvatore said.

Maryland State Police Sgt. Jay Stine, who is assigned to the state Attorney General's Office in the Criminal Investigation Division, testified that more than 100 complaints came into the Hagerstown Police Department at the onset of the investigation. He said since the Attorney General's Office has more resources than the city police agency, it took over the case. About 330 people were sent questionnaires during the office's investigation, he testified.

The trial is scheduled to run through Thursday.

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