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Prison after clients sold down river in cruise swindle

February 24, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The former owner of a riverboat tour company, who took millions in payments for cruises and spent much of the money in casinos, has been jailed for nearly four years.

The US District Court in Boston sentenced Bret Gordon, former owner of the US company Tom Harper Cruises, to 46 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

The Boston Globe reported that Gordon was also ordered to pay USD 2.9 million in restitution to victims. The paper noted that it was unclear where the money would come from. The cruise company has filed for bankruptcy protection.

According to the US Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts, Gordon, 43, pleaded guilty to six counts of wire fraud and two counts of filing a false personal tax return. “Wire fraud” is US terminology for financial fraud involving the use of telecommunications or information technology.

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In 2013, Gordon established and owned a 65% interest in Tom Harper Cruises, a business selling overseas river cruise holidays, the US Attorney’s Office said.

As the company’s manager, Gordon had exclusive control of its bank accounts and finances. Soon after Tom Harper Cruises began operating, Gordon started to take money from its bank account for his own use, primarily for casino gambling.

The funds received by the company were customer payments for trips, which were operated by independent cruise companies, so Tom Harper Cruises needed to retain sufficient funds to pay those independent companies.

“As a result of Gordon’s actions, Tom Harper Cruises became unable to pay some of its regular business expenses and, inevitably, to pay the independent cruise companies for the trips ordered by customers,” the US Attorney’s office reported. In June 2015, Tom Harper Cruises closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy.

Between September 2013 and June 2015, Gordon took about USD 2.26 million from Tom Harper Cruise’s accounts for his own use.

About 400 customers were left without the trips they planned for, after paying Tom Harper Cruises a total of approximately USD 3.17 million.

Gordon also failed to report the money he had taken as income on his personal income tax returns.  He failed to report about USD 165,000 that he received in tax year 2013, and about USD 900,000 that he had taken in tax year 2014.

The court-appointed trustee representing creditors in the bankruptcy case said that Gordon had lost millions through gambling, the Boston Globe reported.

The paper reported that American couples paid Tom Harper Cruises as much as USD 18,000 for riverboat trip in Scotland in 2015 on a vessel said to have been built for the Queen of England. They discovered that the trip was cancelled only after arriving in Edinburgh.

Tom Harper Cruises booked trips to Russia, Scotland, France, Spain, and Vietnam, sending customers to independent tour operators after adding a mark-up of 25% to 35%, prosecutors said in court filings.

Edited by Peter Needham

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