Police in Buena Park are investigating the Aug. 22 closure of a travel and tour company that apparently collected deposits and prepayments from numerous customers but never booked their flights and hotel rooms.
The 2-year-old company, Carefree David West, had customers from California to New York, according to a police detective, and was doing at least $1 million a year in business with one small Caribbean airline alone.
One disgruntled couple, Dave and Debbie Martin, of La Mirada, made an $820 prepayment to Carefree David West for the air and land portions of a weeklong vacation in Jamaica, only to discover that the travel firm had never made airline or hotel bookings.
In addition, Carefree David West defaulted on a $250,000 loan from Orange-based New City Bank, according to a suit filed in Orange County Superior Court.
The Martins, as well as a senior vice president of the bank, say that repeated attempts to reach the agency's owners have failed. The Times also was unable to contact the owners, Dale and Agatha Dempsey, either through the agency or at their Placentia residence. And William F. Turner, the La Mirada-based attorney for Carefree David West, did not return phone calls from The Times.
Exactly how many people wound up paying Carefree David for vacations they never took remains unclear, although an Air Jamaica official said the Buena Park-based agency had been booking more than $1 million worth of vacation packages a year through Air Jamaica alone.
Buena Park police so far have received about a dozen complaints from Carefree David West clients and have begun an investigation into what Sgt. Terry Branum called "a major case."
Branum said detectives believe that there are "victims all the way back to New York" but do not yet have any idea of just how many people lost deposits and prepayments when the travel agency closed down. Branum said his department still is looking for potential victims.
Both the Orange County district attorney's office and Better Business Bureau also report receiving complaints concerning the abrupt shutdown and unavailability of Carefree David's owners.
But spokesmen for both agencies say they have little information. Deputy Dist. Atty. Elise Cuen said her office has received at least half a dozen complaints but declined to say whether an active investigation is under way.
The Martins' first inkling of trouble came on Aug. 22 when a friend called to tell them that Carefree David West had just shut its doors and laid off all of its employees.
The day before, on Aug. 21, Debbie Martin said, an employee of Carefree David had called her to confirm that the couple's trip was scheduled for Sept. 12.
On Aug. 30, the couple received a form letter saying that Carefree David West "has suspended operations indefinitely. Negotiations to protect your booking are ongoing," the letter continued, adding that "in the event we are able to protect your booking, you will be notified."
They have received no subsequent notification. But, by checking on her own, Debbie Martin discovered that Hawaiian Air, the airline that she and her husband had been told that they would be flying on, had no record of Carefree David West purchasing charter space for Sept. 12.
She also called the hotel they were expecting to stay at in Jamaica and were told that there was no record of a reservation for the Martins.
A spokesman for the Golden Seas Beach Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, told The Times that the hotel had done business with Carefree David West but never received reservations for the Martins.
"It didn't seem like a fly-by-night company," Debbie Martin said. "I guess I should have asked more questions."
According to Air Jamaica, several Carefree David West customers were left stranded in Jamaica when the travel agency closed. They were returned to the United States at the airline's expense.
Dinaz Boga, a spokeswoman for the government-owned carrier, would not disclose how much it cost Air Jamaica to get the vacationers home but described it as "not an enormous amount of money."
However, according to documents filed in Orange County Superior Court by New City Bank, the travel company owner is also involved with several other companies, including a travel agency located at the same Buena Park address as Carefree David West.
That travel agency, Super Savers Travel, declined to comment on Carefree David.
Florida Agency Closes
A woman who identified herself as Kim and described herself as Super Savers' manager said she did not know Dempsey's whereabouts, and claimed that he holds only a part interest in the company.
The same day that Carefree David West shut its doors, the 18-year-old Carefree David Travel Co. Inc., of North Miami, Fla., also ceased operations.