- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - A Utah travel agent faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to taking money for a high school band trip to Hawaii that never happened.

Calliope “Ope” Saaga, 40, also faces a $250,000 fine and an order of restitution, the Springfield News-Leader reported (https://sgfnow.co/ZGtlDu ). A sentence hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet, but is expected in two to three months.

Saaga previously pleaded not guilty to 15 counts in the case. But on Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. He did not look toward school board members and band directors who attended the hearing.

“I was hoping he would turn around just once and look at us and acknowledge who he stole from,” said Julie Germann, Willard school board member, sitting in the front row. “There were kids and families that scrimped and saved for this opportunity.”

Saaga was in charge of a number of duties, including booking airfare, lodging, transportation and meals for more than 300 students and chaperones. Willard High School Band Boosters paid him about $360,000 between 2011 and 2012. Prosecutors said he used the money for personal expenses, including 47 days spent gambling in Las Vegas.

“The kids and the parents and the families in Willard want justice, want restitution and want to see that this man never does this again,” said Chris Church, who spent 32 years as the band director.

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com


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