An "unscrupulous" Bellmore travel agent scammed six clients who booked a seven-day Alaskan cruise out of nearly $11,000, Nassau prosecutors said Friday.
Darlene Buonauro, 57, of Wantagh, was arraigned Thursday in Nassau District Court in Hempstead and charged with first-degree scheme to defraud. Additional charges are expected, prosecutors said.
District Court Judge Maxine Broderick released Buonauro on her own recognizance. If convicted, Buonauro faces a maximum of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison.
“Instead of the luxury Alaskan cruise that they paid for, this unscrupulous travel agent allegedly left her victims high and dry when she stole their cruise fare,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said.
Buonauro's attorney, John Pedranghelu of Hicksville, did not respond to a request for comment.
Janice Edmonds, 70, of Virginia, booked the late-August cruise with Learning Through Travel Journeys in Bellmore to celebrate her brother and sister-in-law's 15th wedding anniversary. Edmonds said she was referred to Buonauro by a friend who had used her services in the past. Buonauro owns the travel agency, prosecutors said.
Edmonds said she mailed the travel agency a $250 deposit and later invited friends and family from New Jersey and North Carolina to join her on the Norwegian Cruise Line trip, which left from Seattle on Aug. 26.
Between October 2017 and April, Edmonds and her travel companions made payments to Buonauro totaling $10,846 and received notification from the agent that their trip was paid in full and that they would receive documentation in the coming weeks, prosecutors said.
When they did not receive the documents before their scheduled departure, Edmonds said she called Norwegian directly and was told their reservations had been canceled for nonpayment.
"I was so disappointed," Edmonds said. "This is my eighth cruise and this has never happened before. I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it."
Buonauro also encouraged Edmonds and her party to purchase travel insurance but the agent pocketed the money, preventing the victims from filing insurance claims, prosecutors said. Buonauro's license with the state Department of Financial Services to sell travel insurance expired in 2015, prosecutors said.
"I feel so bad that I got my family involved," said Edmonds, who ended up taking a cruise with her party to Cozumel, Mexico, and Key West, Florida, in September.
Buonauro is due back in court Nov. 20.
Singas encouraged anyone who may have been victimized by Buonauro to call the district attorney's Financial Crimes Bureau at 516-571-2149.
She also provided guidance on what to look for when using a travel agent. Clients are urged to:
- Ask for copies of travel agency documents and the booking confirmation issued by the cruise line, airline or hotel at the time of the initial deposit.
- Keep records on when payments are required and how much has already been paid. Payments by credit card may be reversible and can offer greater protection to the consumer because the charge can be disputed if the service was not received. Payments by check or debit card would require a refund from the travel agent.
- Request confirmation from a cruise line showing that payment has been made in full;
- Check with the Department of Consumer Affairs to see if complaints have been filed against the travel agent or agency.
- Ask for the name of the insurance carrier if purchasing travel insurance through a travel agent. Clients should also ask for a copy of the travel insurance confirmation and policy.