Hundreds of clients of a Chinatown travel agency have come forward to claim they may have lost up to $1 million when the company suddenly closed its doors last week, stranding some travelers in China, according to customers and a prominent community leader.
Customers began showing up outside the tiny 12 Pell St. office of Broadview Tours on May 12, a day after the Manhattan company filed a federal bankruptcy petition in federal court in Brooklyn, under the name First Chamber Inc. The customers, most of whom were Chinese immigrants, were greeted by a gated door and a notice announcing the Chapter 7 bankruptcy action, which was transferred to Manhattan on Monday.
The company had been in business at 8 Pell St. before moving to the place where famed songwriter Irving Berlin worked in the early 20th century in the fabled Pelham Cafe saloon. Desperate customers even telephoned the local NYPD precinct.
"It is very bad, this case," said Edward Chiu, president of the Lin Sing Association Inc., who has been besieged by more than 400 customers looking for help in getting their money back. "All kinds of trouble, all kinds of trouble."
Chiu says he is gathering evidence and may take the case to the Manhattan district attorney's office.
One of the problems facing the customers is they paid the travel agency in cash and received no tickets or e-tickets to confirm travel arrangements, Chiu said. Some received documents purporting to be travel itineraries on paper without a corporate name. The largely cash transactions are rooted in the traditional way business is done in Chinatown, Chiu said.
Travel agents who did business with Broadview told Newsday the company owed them thousands of dollars for tickets and that they stopped extending credit to the troubled company late last year.
In bankruptcy court papers the president of Broadview was listed as Vivian Cheng, whose brother Wilson was sometimes involved with the company, according to business listings and Chiu. The company listed debts of as much as $50,000 and 50 to 99 creditors. Cheng and her brother couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. The firm's bankruptcy attorneys didn't return calls.