Travel agent sentenced for $40K theft of ticket funds

LIHUE — A travel agent who bilked friends out of $40,000 for flights that were never scheduled was given a full restitution order in lieu of jail with probation.

Antonia Baligad, 47, listened in 5th Circuit Court this week as victims of the scam told the court about how a failed family reunion in the Philippines had effected their lives. She will spend 30 days in jail and must pay $39,150 in restitution or face a full year behind bars for a first-degree theft conviction.

“I hope you now realize how deeply you hurt these people,” said Judge Kathleen Watanabe.

Baligad was the sole proprietor of “A’s Travel Service” that opened in 2010 in Ewa Beach, Oahu. It closed within a year following after the thefts that took place from May through September 2010.

Helen Domingo, of Puhi, was present in court and said she collected money from family and friends on Kauai for travel to the Philippines to celebrate her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary and the holidays. The money was deposited into accounts belonging to Baligad.

There were 48 family members on island who were going to meet in the Philippines, she said, and so they worked with a travel agent “they knew and trusted.” Signs that things weren’t right started after contacting the airlines for confirmation of flight itineraries.

The reservations were made, but the airlines said that no funds had been transferred by the agent to book the seats and that the reservations could not be held much longer. After reassurances from Baligad, they checked with the airport again closer to the flight date.

“We called the airlines again and they said the tickets were canceled,” Domingo said.

The victims also called KHON Action Line. They spoke to Mrs. Domingo and the defendant and a story aired on Dec. 2, 2010. In that feature, Baligad basically confessed to the theft.

A police report was also made about that same time with Kauai Police Department.

A felony information complaint and a warrant was issued on March 14, 2013. She was arrested on the warrant in Nevada on Oct. 7, 2013 and extradited to Kauai 21 days later.

County First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Takata, who became first deputy prosecutor in November 2012, said he was not aware of what happened with this case from the time a police report was made in December 2010 until he received the case in February 2013.

“Neither do I know why defendant moved to Nevada, or why she took the money,” Takata said.

Takata would say that it was apparent from the pre-sentence report that the defendant lacks insight into the effects of the crime on the victims.

Three other victims who spoke at the sentencing included William Padasdao, who said he was angered beyond description.

He and his spouse eventually made the trip a year later, he added, but the planned events had been missed.

Michelle Domingo, Helen’s daughter, said there was no way to ever make up this missed trip. She wanted to see her grandfather in the Philippines. He passed away within a year of the missed trip.

“That was the last opportunity to see my grandfather,” Michelle said.

Judge Watanabe said the defendant violated a trust. The selfish actions deprived a family of very special events.

“There are some things that cannot be undone,” Watanabe said.

The only reason Baligad had a stayed jail order and wasn’t spending a year in jail was to allow her to work and make $300 a month payments in restitution, Watanabe said. She is serving 30 days in jail and would serve the year only if she fails probation or restitution payments.

Takata said the defendant is currently caring for her nephews. She is unemployed with plans to open a care home, he added.

State Deputy Public Defender Stephanie Sato said Baligad had no prior criminal history until this offense and because of the nature of the circumstances involved in the crime, it was likely that she would not reoffend.

Sato asked for probation and minimal jail given the 21 days she served in the county facility, and the 21 days she served in Nevada awaiting extradition to Kauai.

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