A TRAVEL agent hit by the economic downturn continued taking holiday payments, knowing he would not be able to deliver them.
Preston Crown Court heard Nigel Gregory continued trading even after the Association of British Travel Agents withdrew his membership.
Some victims had saved up for the trip of a lifetime – but ended up losing out to Gregory after he failed to make good on £29,000 worth of holidays while he was running the Holiday Makers agency on Poulton Road, Fleetwood.
He has since been made bankrupt and his assets seized.
The 45-year-old, of Anchorsholme Lane East, Cleveleys, admitted an offence of fraudulent trading covering a period from January to November 2009.
The court heard he had successfully run his travel agency for many years but he accepted his business started to have financial trouble in December 2008.
Craig Cleminson, prosecuting, said Gregory thought the industry would recover and his financial problems would be resolved so continued to trade.
One woman had booked a trip to Sharm-el-Sheikh which cost around £8,000 and was left “disgusted” after Gregory vowed the holiday was fine and that she had nothing to worry about.
Others affected had also paid thousands for trips to New Zealand, Florida, or cruises.
Mr Cleminson said: “The defendant continued to incur liabilities and accept monies when he knew there was a risk he could not meet his obligations.”
The offences came to light after the travel agency closed in November 2009. A notice had been placed in the shop window, saying it was closed due to unforseen circumstances.
Police launched an investigation after a number of complaints. It was found Gregory had continued to display an ABTA sign in the shop after his membership was withdrawn in September 2009.
Mr Cleminson added: “The defendant had run up debts of around £165,000, while maintaining his family’s comfortable lifestyle. That included, in January 2009, finance to purchase a BMW. In August of that year he took his family to Florida at a cost of £3,000 and paid for the private education of his children.”
The Gregory’s former family home and nine rental properties owned by the defendant have now been sold.
Waheed Omran-Baber, defending, said £50,000 to £60,000 compensation paid out by ABTA had come from money paid in by Gregory when he became a member.
He added: “It became a downward spiral of robbing Peter to pay Paul. The business was spiralling downwards. There was very little he could do to control it.
“The offence had a devastating effect on individuals, but also his family.”
Judge Recorder Andrew Long told Gregory: “When you knew the writing was on the wall you continued to trade, taking payments for holidays which, in some cases, you knew perfectly well you wouldn’t be able to deliver.
“The people you defrauded were individuals, many of whom would have saved up for a holiday of a lifetime, only to find they had been cheated out of a holiday by you.”
Gregory was handed 36 weeks prison, suspended for a year, by the judge. He was also placed on 12 months’ supervision and was ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work for the community.