A Utah man who allegedly took $272,500 from the Southside High School band that was intended to pay for a 2012 band trip to Hawaii was in Fort Smith on Monday (June 9) where he was handed a three-count indictment for wire fraud.
Calliope “Ope” Rocky Saaga, 40, of Saratoga Springs, Utah, was arraigned Monday before U.S. Magistrage Judge James Marschewski on charges that were handed down May 7 by a Federal Grand Jury.
According to the indictment, Saaga in August 2011 contracted with Southside High School to provide travel arrangements for a spring 2012 band trip to Hawaii. Band officials sent Saaga, operating as Performing Hawaii Tours and Present America Tours, three payments for the trip. However, Saaga used the money for personal use and the band trip was eventually cancelled.
“The scheme resulted in defrauding the Fort Smith Southside Band, students, and parents of approximately $272,500,” noted the statement from the office of Connor Eldridge, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas.
Saaga could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Dr. Gordon Floyd, deputy superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools, said the parents, students and faculty harmed by the fraud will likely “never see full justice in terms of restitution,” but at least they will know Saage now faces the legal consequence of his actions.
“We are happy he is being brought to justice. He cheated a lot of students out of money that was a result of their hard work and deprived them of a chance to take a trip that would have been for them the trip of a lifetime,” Floyd said.
Saaga also faces indictments on 12 charges of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering from a Federal Grand Jury in Springfield, Mo.
In that case, Saaga is charged with stealing $360,000 from the Willard High School Band Boosters, which forced the cancellation of a trip to Hawaii for more than 300 students and chaperones. This case was investigated by the FBI. Assistant United States Attorney Mark Webb is prosecuting the case for the United States.
“As alleged, this case involves defrauding high school students and their parents out of money set aside to take a once-in-a-lifetime band trip,” Eldridge noted in his statement. “It is unfathomable that someone would take money from students seeking to do something worthwhile – in this case travel to perform as part of the Southside High School Band. We will continue to prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.”