Travel agent arrested for taking money from local customers and never booking trips

Posted at 10:29 PM, Aug 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-23 23:29:17-04

Maria Nicholson can't help but smile when she talks about her wedding.

"I was excited and nervous at the same time," the Hyattsville woman said.

The newlyweds said their vows at a small beach side ceremony in Jamaica last month. It was a perfect getaway in paradise.

However, some guests were missing from the special day.

"So when I called the resort they were like, oh yeah she called, we sent her a contract, but she never sent any payments or anything," said Nicholson.

The bride and groom, along with 15 other friends and family members, used travel agent Carmela Bolden with R U Ready to Travel to book airfare and rooms.

"Every month she would send an invoice, R U Ready to Travel, this is the invoice," said Nicholson’s sister, Rosita Tinsley.

The group paid the 52-year-old New York woman about $18,000, yet Bolden didn't pay for any of their reservations.

"I had to double pay, and it was basically twice as much as it woulda been for me paying her from last year to this year," Tinsely said.

She’s now working with law enforcement to file charges.

But it turns out Bolden is already in hot water. She faces a total of 42 counts of theft, accused of conning folks in Prince George's County, and 34 people from a Caroline County church.

Members of Greater New Hope Baptist Church and Ministries went to officials back in December. Investigators tell us 17 couples paid Bolden nearly $35,000 for a cruise she never booked.

"We're still investigating exactly where those funds went,” said Ron Snyder with Maryland State Police. “We do know that those funds were sent to her via certified check and they were cashed."

ABC2 News caught up with Bolden after court to try and get some answers.

She didn't want to say much without a lawyer, but when we asked again, Bolden did have a message for the groups claiming she scammed them.

"I apologize to everyone, I will make everything right. I have to have time, but like I said, I can't comment on the case itself, but anybody that knows me I’m not that type of person. I’m not."

Bolden's company R U Ready to Travel appears to have been a legitimate business in the past. Then last year, grievances came rolling into the Better Business Bureau.

"You saw the complaints be identical, small groups signing up for a travel excursion and they were never registered for the service," said Greater Maryland BBB President and CEO, Angie Barnett.

Nine separate incidents across the state, with people claiming Bolden duped them out of nearly $90,000.

"To have an agency that suddenly changes its business practices, that is uncommon," Barnett said.

Nicholson says that's why she was so blindsided. Bolden was very professional at the start, but then the group started noticing red flags.

"She wasn't calling back, and she kept saying she was in the hospital, she was sick,” said Nicholson. “I was having a hard time getting in communication with her."

There aren't any explanations yet. However, the anger has given way to a calm determination to see Bolden held accountable.

"Something's got to be wrong, I can't see a sane person thinking they can do this and get away with it," said Tinsely.

"I just want everyone to get their money back, I would just like for everyone to get their money back," Nicolson said.

Bolden is set for trial in Caroline and Prince George's counties for the theft and scheme charges in September.

The BBB says if you're using a booking agency for a trip, it's smart to double check all travel reservations on your own. Also, being asked to pay by money order is not typical, and those funds are rarely recovered.

If you think you may have been victimized by a similar theft, call your local police, and file a complaint with the Maryland Attorney General.