Travel agency under investigation as owner scrambles to reimburse customers

There's a ray of hope for families who lost thousands of dollars to a Waipahu travel agency.

For the past week, dozens of customers have come forward saying they booked a trip to the Philippines, only to find out that their plane tickets were never purchased.

Most of them paid in cash, and have not been able to reach the owner of Diplomat Travel and Tours.

But the owner's attorney spoke with us Friday as Honolulu police now investigate the case as a criminal matter.

We arrived at Diplomat Tours and found people who are clearly upset.

After seeing the stories we aired, they called Philippine Airlines to see if their tickets were still confirmed, and were told that payment never arrived so their reservations were canceled.

"I'm really excited to go to the Philippines to see my family. In 15 years, I've never seen them and this happened to me," said customer Delia Sarmiento.

She and her family paid nearly $8,000 for the trip, and she had good reason to trust the owner of Diplomat Tours, Elma Pacleb.

"I trusted her, because she's my auntie, so I never called. I thought it's confirmed everything already," Sarmiento said.

Pacleb's attorney, Michael Green, says he's been working with her to come up with some kind of loan so everyone will get their money back.

"There are some ways of raising money that we talked about. Like I said, everybody's got to be taken care of. Everybody has to be made whole, and of course, it doesn't make it okay, but it's a start," said Green.

Some of the customers were supposed to leave within the next couple of weeks. Green tells us those families will be taken care of first.

With the possibility that there could be 50 to 60 people who have lost money, "can she raise that type of money?" KHON2 asked.

"With the plan we talked about, she can, and it's a lawful way," Green said. "If she can't do it the way she wanted to, I'm going to talk to some people in the real estate business to see if we can get that done."

Green says Pacleb has some real estate that can be used for collateral, and he plans to help her, which includes not taking his attorney fees until the victims are paid.

As far as what happened to all the money in the first place? Green says Pacleb lost it on a risky business venture.

"Certain things went south and it didn't happen and now we've got to undo it and try to make these people right. These are victims and it wasn't done intentionally," Green said.

Victims are still urged to file complaints with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and Honolulu police so they can investigate.

Even if the victims are paid back, charges can still be filed against Pacleb.

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