LITTLE ROCK — A travel agent, sued for failing to provide a trip to Hawaii for two Arkansas marching bands, was ordered by a Pulaski County circuit judge Wednesday to pay more than $4 million in penalties and restitution to the two bands.
The state attorney general’s office filed the lawsuit last year against Ope Saaga, who operated Performing Hawaii Tours, alleging the owner violated the state Deceptive Trade Practice Act by failing to provide the travel services paid for by the Fort Smith Southside High School and "Spirit of Arkansas" marching bands.
The lawsuit said Saaga received $262,500 from members of the Southside High School marching band and $134,480 from the "Spirit of Arkansas" band, which is based in Marion and is comprised of high school honor students from across the state, for travel, lodging and activities in Hawaii.
During a hearing, Circuit Court Judge Collins Kilgore ordered Saaga to pay $407,003.93 in restitution to the band members and $3.86 million in civil penalties. The judge had previously issued a default order against Saaga.
Saaga never responded to the state’s lawsuit against him and was not present at Wednesday’s hearing in Pulaski County Circuit Court, the attorney general’s office said.
"Band members worked hard to raise enough money to pay for a trip to Hawaii, and this travel agent left them without the promised trip and without their money," Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in a news release.
McDaniel said his office would do everything it can to make sure Saaga fulfills his obligations under the order.