Couple gets jail for scamming families with fake high school band trip

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SAN DIEGO — A two-year jail sentence was handed down Tuesday for a Florida couple who embezzled thousands of dollars from families at four San Diego County high schools in connection with a canceled band trip to Japan.

Bradley Matheson, 52, and Margaret Matheson, 43, pleaded guilty last month to embezzlement, failing to maintain passenger funds in a trust account and failing to provide refunds. A judge ordered the defendants to pay $70,000 in restitution to parents who were scammed. Sixty-eight victims were named in an indictment last October and another seven victims were named in a complaint after the grand jury proceedings.

The case was the result of a joint investigation and prosecution by the state Attorney General and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.

“The Mathesons thought they could get away with preying on our high school students and their families. The Mathesons could not have been more wrong,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “Today’s sentencing should remind everyone that the California Department of Justice is committed to protecting consumers. I appreciate the strong partnership between my office and the San Diego District Attorney’s Office in prosecuting this matter on behalf of families who were exploited by these unscrupulous individuals.”

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said the victims gave the Mathesons their hard-earned money so the students could go on an exciting trip.

“Instead, the defendants cheated these families out of their money as well as what would have been an extraordinary educational experience,” Stephan said.

In December 2014, Bradley Matheson met with one of the high school band directors at a band conference in Chicago and offered to make arrangements for a school band trip to Japan through his company, Harmony International, which he operated with his wife, according to prosecutors.

In January 2016, Matheson provided band students and their parents with a brochure explaining details of the trip.

According to the brochure, the tour cost was $3,687 per person, which could be paid in installments over several months. Students from Del Norte High School, San Marcos High School, Eastlake High School and Mission Hills High School signed up for the trip.

In April 2017, three months before the trip was to take place, the Mathesons sent an email to parents telling them that the trip was canceled. At a school meeting the following month, the Mathesons’ attorney told parents the company had filed for bankruptcy and could not issue refunds.

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