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Utah man charged with bilking high school bands

Published May 13, 2014 8:39 pm

Allegations • Travel agent allegedly took Arkansas, Missouri band funds.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Utah man has been arrested on charges he took hundreds of thousands of dollars from two high school bands to book trips for them to Hawaii, then used the money for such things as gambling in Las Vegas and trips to Samoa and Disneyland.

Travel agent Calliope "Ope" Rocky Saaga, 39, Saratoga Springs, was arrested on a 15-count indictment out of Missouri and three counts from Arkansas.

He is being held in the Weber County Jail.

Saaga, owner of Performing Hawaii Tours and Present America Tours, faces charges of wire fraud and money laundering for allegedly taking funds from the Willard High School Band of Willard, Mo., and the Southside High School Band of Fort Smith, Ark.

Southside Band Director Sean Carrier said the band had contracted twice before with Saaga to make travel arrangements for the band to fly to Hawaii and perform there and did so again for a 2012 trip. While Saaga received $258,000 from the band, he never booked flights, hotel rooms or made other arrangements, Carrier said.

Band members, he said, were "very, very disappointed."

Funds for the trip had come from extensive fundraising and savings by families, Carrier said.

Saaga allegedly took $360,000 from Willard High Band Boosters also for a 2012 tour to Hawaii, according to an indictment handed up there.

But he failed to book airfare, lodging, transportation, meals, tours and travel insurance for more than 300 students and chaperones, according to the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Missouri. Instead, Saaga allegedly used the money for personal expenditures, including gambling in Las Vegas, travel to Samoa, a trip to Disneyland and "numerous other expenses unrelated to the terms of the contract."

"While he was spending the money of the Willard High School Band Boosters to finance his personal lifestyle, Saaga transmitted emails to the Willard High School director of bands, which lulled the Willard High School Band Boosters into believing that their June 2012 trip to Hawaii was on schedule," according to the indictment. Instead the band ended up canceling the trip and lost its $360,000.

An itinerary shows the band had planned to tour the Pearl Harbor memorial, including the USS Missouri, where it had scheduled a performance. It also was scheduled to march in a parade and tour the Polynesian Cultural Center.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse ordered that Saaga be held in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and transported to Arkansas and Missouri for appearances in federal courts in each state.

Saaga potentially faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the wire-fraud charges and up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for the money-laundering counts.

tharvey@sltrib.com Twitter: @TomHarveySltrib