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Wednesday, 27 January 2010 17:37

Small-time theft by travel agent a big-time violation of trust

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William Maney, owner of Fantasy Travel in Sylva, allegedly defrauded an elderly woman from Franklin out of $7,000 last year by stealing her credit card and using it to purchase airline tickets for other clients, according to charges filed by the Sylva Police Department. Maney will appear in court on Feb. 2 to answer the charges, but it seems Mollie Miller was not his only victim.

For Miller, an 81-year-old Michigan transplant who is legally blind, the episode has been a lesson she’d rather not learn from.

“I’ve always been a very trusting person, and I’ve had no reason not to be,” Miller said.

The story began last July, when Miller showed up at Fantasy Travel to make arrangements for her son and daughter-in-law to come visit. She had never been there before, but Miller said she had always gone through travel agents in the past and didn’t know how to make online ticket reservations.

“He was so pleasant and what not, and I guess I just walked out of there without my credit card,” Miller said.

That was only the beginning of the story. Because of Miller’s poor eyesight, a neighbor helps her with bills each month.

“She says, ‘You’ve got $8,000 on your credit card’ and I said, ‘What a nice limit,’” Miller said. “And she said, ‘No, Mollie. You spent $8,000 on your credit card.’”

Miller didn’t suspect Maney until she got a piece of mail addressed to him at her address. Her daughter-in-law opened it and it confirmed their suspicions.

Miller took the information to the Franklin Police who took it the Macon County Sheriff’s Department who took it to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department who took it to the Sylva Police, which ultimately was the agency with jurisdiction since Fantasy Travel is located within Sylva town limits.

Det. John Buchanan took the case over and gathered enough evidence to charge Maney with 13 counts of obtaining property under false pretenses and one count of financial card theft.

The doors of Maney’s business have remained open with the lights on, but no one is there. Builder Greg Jenkins, who leases office space from Maney, said his jacket is on his desk chair and one of his cell phones on the desk.

“It’s just like he dropped off the face of the earth,” Jenkins said.

Sylva Police released information related to the case in the hopes of finding out if Maney had taken advantage of any other clients. So far, two more people have come forward, according to Buchanan. One resident has said he purchased a $500 gift certificate but it was never reimbursed, and paid $250 for an airline ticket that wasn’t received.

In the case of Miller, Maney used her card to buy over $7,000 worth of merchandise for nine Fantasy Travel clients between June 30 and July 18 of last year, according to court records. Det. Buchanan said Maney has cooperated with the investigation.

It’s a gloomy chapter for a downtown business that had been around for over 25 years. Maney purchased it in 2005 and renovated the space with help from a loan from the Sequoyah Fund, a small business incubator funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Maney appeared in court on Dec. 22 and was released on $22,000 bond.

Miller just wants her money back and some sense of peace of mind.

“I felt ridiculous afterwards when I realized he’d gotten away with it,” Miller said. “As long as I don’t wind up paying for the airline tickets, I guess I’ll be happy.”

Maney could not be reached for comment.

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