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Student travel agency faces fraud lawsuit

By Eric Swedlund
Arizona Summer Wildcat
August 9, 1999
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

A travel agency that received numerous UA student complaints this spring is facing a consumer fraud lawsuit that could permanently stop the company from operating in Arizona.

The Arizona Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission are seeking restitution and a permanent injunction against the Phoenix-based Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel Inc.

The lawsuits are a part of "Operation Trip Trap," a nationwide FTC effort to crackdown on travel fraud, through both law enforcement and consumer education.

Cerkvenik-Anderson operates agencies called Surf & Sun Tours, Mexico Tours and College Tours, which primarily offer Mexican spring break vacations. The company has run classified advertisements in the Arizona Daily Wildcat under the title of College Tours.

This spring, more than 100 University of Arizona students on vacation in Mexico with the company said they were left sleeping in airports and down-graded hotel rooms. One student, communication sophomore Stacie Gindes, said in March that she planned to file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.

"We would like the company to take care of people who paid and didn't get the package," said Pati Urias, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

Urias said the attorney general has received more than 50 complaints about Cerkvenik-Anderson, prompting the legal action.

The lawsuit, filed July 20 in Arizona Superior Court, is a complaint for permanent injunction, civil penalties and restitution, Urias said.

The company allegedly misled customers into believing all details regarding their vacations would be taken care of, and then charged added fees or did not deliver promised services. Steve Averett, general manager of Cerkvenik-Anderson, said the lawsuits are based on unfounded complaints.

"Basically, we think the lawsuit is a bunch of garbage really," he said.

The company has changed charter companies because of the flight delays, Averett said, and downgrading of hotel rooms "does not happen very often."

In those cases, partial refunds are offered, he said.

The company has received 14 complaints in the last three years, Averett added.

The FTC filed their complaint against the company in Arizona District Court on July 29, said Mitchell Katz, a spokesman.

In February, the Arizona Better Business Bureau canceled Cerkvenik-Anderson's membership because of unanswered complaints and unsatisfactory business practices.

The Bureau registered 452 inquiries into the company in March, and more than 600 total in 1999.

Nadine Samter, an FTC attorney dealing with the case, said Cerkvenik-Anderson has received more than 100 complaints nationally.

"The real thing that struck us is how large a company it is," Samter said, adding that fraud cases are usually brought against smaller companies.

Cerkvenik-Anderson also ran into consumer fraud complaints in Oregon, reaching a $25,000 settlement and an assurance of voluntary compliance to change business practices, said Rep. Vicki Walker, D-Ore.

"I don't think there is any redeeming social value here with this company," Walker said. "I would be hard pressed to be convinced they could clean it up."

Walker said she has researched the company since her daughter's 1998 graduation trip, during which the company allegedly sponsored sexual contests and games and excessive drinking.

Walker said six people have died while on vacation with the company in the past eight years.

"I don't like businesses that take advantage of folks, especially repeatedly," she said.