State to hold local travel agency in contempt - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

FOX 5 I-Team

State to hold local travel agency in contempt

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ATLANTA, Ga. -

The state is asking a judge to hold a local travel agency in contempt of court for taking clients' money but not providing the trips or returning that cash. This is a story the I-Team has followed for months.

RELATED STORY: I-Team: Travel agent dashes Girl Scouts' dreams of Disney

In this latest edition, a group of ladies wanted to take a trip to the Holy Land. They couldn't afford the real deal, so they decided to board a bus to what they considered the next best thing -- The Holy Land Experience in Florida.

"I feel like he just ripped us off. Took advantage of us old ladies, ya know? Just took our money which ain't right," said Mamie Green.

But this group of church ladies fought back. Many of them get together for their weekly "Hour of Power" and tell the state they feel shorted by a man who took their money then for months disappeared.

Take a look at this: Others have complained to the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection that Benton Group Travel cancels paid-for trips then pockets the money.

Minniett Westbrook laughed, "Well, ya know, some people need Jesus."

They are upbeat but have also been determined to get their money back. They'll tell you they were singing the praises of this trip when they saw Benton Group Travel's brochure about an affordable get-away to Florida's Holy Land Experience resort. They liked the sound of it.

"To me, it was a wonderful experience not being able to go to the real Holy Land," added Minniett Westbrook.

And they liked the price of it. Receipts show last summer they started paying installments for the $225 October trip.

Some were paid up: $225 here, $225 there. Others were close coughing up $125. But Minniett Westbrook fortunately stopped her final payment after she saw the I-Team's September story on Benton Group Travel about Girl Scouts.

Yes, Girl Scouts. A Forsyth Girl Scouts' troop saved their fundraising money for a trip to Disney World. Court documents filed by Consumer Protection show the Girl Scouts paid Benton Group Travel more than $6,700.

A troop mom told us in September they got to Florida, but they never made it to the Magic Kingdom.

Adrienne Mays, "He was like, ‘Uh, I forgot the tickets'. He forgot the tickets. At home. In Atlanta."

Yep, they turned around, she says, and went back home with no Disney memories.

Ms. Westbrook saw the report then called Lee Benton who owns the travel agency.

"He told me not to worry about that. That it was not true. It was a mistake," Minnitte Westbrook said.

A few days later - September 27th - the group got a letter that their trip to Florida's Holy Land Experience was canceled.

The letter indicated the women would receive a full refund. Yes, yes, it said full refund.  And that was clear in 30 days. It's passed. It's into three or four months," remembered Florene Williams another paid-up member who wanted to take the trip.

But suddenly, after the I-Team stopped by the church, something happened. Refunds started trickling in.

Someone with Benton Travel emailed us with a list of ladies they say they intend to refund. Most women say, yep, they got it. A few say they're still waiting.

But state regulators are still pushing ahead with their motion they filed to hold Lee Benton and his company in contempt of court.

The I-Team tried tracking him down to talk about the mounting complaints, but he won't answer us. But the ladies, retired and with time on their hands, plan to continue to hold Benton Group Travel accountable.

Mamie Green said, "It ain't because we didn't try."

The state says Lee Benton has a Feb. 10 court date.

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