Family pleads guilty in travel-scam case

A Fairfield family pleaded guilty to felony grand theft after allegedly using the family-owned travel agency to sell plane tickets without ever providing tickets to dozens of alleged victims, most of whom are from the Bay Area, prosecutors said.

Paul Randhawa, 53, his wife, Debbie, 46, and son, Manny, 23, operated M & K Travel Services — which had offices in San Francisco, San Jose and Fairfield — and allegedly swindled more than $90,000 from 36 victims — mostly India-bound customers — in a scheme that lasted two and a half years, San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Max Peltz said.

“In some cases, they would provide a ticket with no ticket for a return and [victims] would be stranded over there,” he said.

Paul Randhawa also pleaded guilty for allegedly forging bank deposit slips totaling $23,000 that indicated he deposited money into a San Francisco wholesaler’s bank account for airline tickets. He then resold the tickets to retail customers, prosecutors said.

As part of the plea deal, Paul Randhawa received a three-year sentence in state prison. Debbie Randhawa received a 30-day jail sentence, while their son will serve 60 days of community service. They were also ordered to pay $114,000 in restitution.

“The degree of the agreed sentencing reflects the level of culpability,” Peltz said, noting that none of the suspects has expressed remorse or regret. The family’s attorney, Edward Swanson, did not return calls for comment.

The three suspects were arrested in November 2005, days before Paul Randhawa was running for Fairfield City Council. After the three posted bail, they allegedly continued to swindle customers up until December 2006, prosecutors say.

Anne Ponugoti and her husband, Prabhaker, of San Francisco, purchased a plane ticket to India through the agency without any problems in 2003. But while planning another trip the following year, they never received tickets after paying more than $1,000, Anne Ponugoti said.

“When we went to their office, they indicated they were having printing problems and that they would FedEx the tickets from their Fairfield office,” she said. “It seemed weird, butwe used them before, so I thought we shouldn’t be suspicious.”

As time wore on, they had problems getting straight answers from the Randhawas, she said. Eventually, they contacted the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

“It became so infuriating,” Anne Ponugoti said. “You were being taken advantage of as you were planning to visit your family and getting excited.”

bfoley@examiner.com


Have you been the victim of a travel agent scheme?

Share your comments below.

Bay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Giants second baseman Donovan Solano scores on a double in the seventh inning against the Dodgers at Oracle Park on July 29. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Will the Giants make the playoffs? Kris Bryant may be the answer

By Chris Haft Special to The Examiner You’d be hard-pressed to find… Continue reading

Tiffany Carter, owner of Boug Cali West Coast Creole Shack in San Francisco’s La Cocina Marketplace, was dismayed by gentrification she found when she returned to her hometown to start a business. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF Black Wallstreet: Helping residents build wealth, reclaim spaces they’ve had to leave

Tiffany Carter moved back to her hometown of San Francisco five years… Continue reading

A prescribed fire at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks was conducted in June 2016 to reduce hazardous fuel loading, increase watershed health, and restore the natural fire cycle in the Redwood Canyon area ecosystem. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Paterson/National Park Service)
Experts, UC scientists discuss wildfires in the state’s riskiest regions

Wildfires are nothing new in California’s history, but the magnitude and frequencies… Continue reading

Fourth-grade students at Lucerne Valley Elementary School don masks and Western wear for a “Walk Through California” history day during in-person instruction. (Courtesy of Krystal Nelson)
Confusion over mask mandate for California schools sparks tension between districts and parents

By Diana Lambert EdSource Shifting rules around mask mandates at schools are… Continue reading

Steven Buss, left, and Sachin Agarwal co-founded Grow SF, which plans to produce election voter guides offering a moderate agenda. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Grow SF: New tech group aims to promote moderate ideals to political newcomers

Sachin Agarwal has lived in San Francisco for 15 years. But the… Continue reading

Most Read