HONOLULU – An Oahu woman who called herself a “Hawaiian Virtual Travel Counselor” has pled guilty to two felony counts for not refunding money to customers when she failed to provide travel services to them and instead illegally withdrew the money from their accounts, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
Wendy Tenedora Wong – owner of House of Aloha Hawaii, a travel booking service company based in Ewa Beach, Oahu – has been ordered to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars to customers, mainly in California, who said she never booked their vacations.
According to her Aug. 23 plea deal, Wong has until her Nov. 4 sentencing hearing to pay $ 155,002.32 in restitution to the victims, Tamalca Harris, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney said. She will still face two years of felony probation.
If she doesn’t pay back the money, she faces one year in county jail and one year in mandatory supervision.
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There are 48 customers who came forward against Wong, although not all are requesting their money back, Harris said.
According to reporting by the Bay Area ABC7’s I-Team, Wong would call customers right before their trip to tell them a flight was canceled and fail to rebook them. In other instances, people would realize shortly before their trip that there were no confirmed bookings or clients would arrive at the agreed upon hotel to no reservation in their name, according to complaints on Better Business Bureau. When confronted, Wong would provide excuses, such as “crazy weather,” or claim a refund is on the way, according to ABC7.
One couple told ABC7 they chose Wong to plan their destination wedding in Hawaii and paid her $ 72,000. About three months before the wedding they realized there were no confirmed bookings and Wong gave the couple excuses such as “everything is under water,” they told ABC7. The couple was unable to get a refund from her and had to quickly find another planner to rebook their wedding.
Another complaint on BBB from 2019 details how one family tried to book one night at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa through Wong. “When we arrived to Hawaii, we did not have any reservation at Aulani, and (Wong) assured us that we would be getting a refund,” the complaint says. The family had paid through Venmo, and said Wong told them to contact Venmo or their bank to get the refund. (Venmo has no refund policy but requires the recipient to pay back the sender.)
According to BBB, Wong never had the proper business license to be conducting travel services. In 2014, she had filed for bankruptcy protection of almost $ 200,000. Even her parents di lei have said that she owes them about $ 200,000, ABC7 reported.
In 2019, clients received an email from House of Aloha Hawaii that said the business was permanently closing down after “irrecoverable business losses” and all bookings were going to be canceled, according to ABC7.
“(Wong) abused a position of trust and disrupted the lives of many families in the community when she betrayed them,” Harris said, adding that the families should feel proud for coming forward against Wong.