JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two and a half years after the I-TEAM’s first investigation into Juan Arteaga, which led us to uncover a nationwide travel scandal, federal prosecutors charged the Jacksonville man with wire fraud. Arteaga is accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from people – including friends and co-workers – and spending that money on himself.
Following the I-TEAM’s first report on Arteaga on Jan. 23, 2019, where Nathan Dee recounted how he and family members lost thousands of dollars in cash when they paid Arteaga for a family reunion cruise that was never booked, dozens of others from across the country contacted the I-TEAM with similar stories.
People told the I-TEAM that Arteaga required them to pay up front to receive big discounts on things like flights, hotels and luxury vacations, but claim their trips were never booked and their money wasn’t returned. Some tell us they received their itineraries and had no idea their trips weren’t booked and paid for until they tried to check in at the airport or arrived at their hotels or cruise ships.
Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and Florida’s Office of the Attorney General began actively looking into complaints against Arteaga. Following a series of I-TEAM reports with other potential victims, the FBI took over the investigation into Arteaga from state officials.
That leads us to now. Federal court documents filed Wednesday morning outline how Arteaga operated as a travel agent despite not being licensed. Investigators explain how Arteaga devised a scheme to offer friends, business contacts and referrals a significant discount on everything from domestic and international airfares to hotel rooms to amusement park tickets.
DOCUMENT: Juan Arteaga charged in federal court
They say Arteaga would receive the money through checks and wire transfers but used the money for himself. Court documents say:
“…Arteaga would and did use the fraud proceeds from the scheme for his personal enrichment, including paying his mortgage, short-term loans, credit card bills, and cable bills, buying groceries, paying nursing home expenses, and withdrawing large amounts of cash.”
The federal government goes on to describe Arteaga as operating a pyramid-type scheme.
“…Arteaga would and did use some funds obtained from victims to purchase travel arrangements for other victims, thus delaying discovery of the scheme.”
The I-TEAM contacted Nathan Dee within an hour of the wire fraud charge being filed against Arteaga in federal court.
“We’re glad that Juan is going to be stopped from continuing to do this kind of thing to other people, so that was the primary reason for coming forward in the first place,” Dee told the I-TEAM. “We didn’t know Juan personally, but he came very highly recommended.”
Ty and Pam Cowell of St. Augustine did know Arteaga personally. They say they worked with him and their families were friends.
“We thought we had this really good thing with a really good friend of ours, and it turned out that he was taking advantage of — he was using us to get to all of our other friends,” said Pam.
Investigators say from 2018 to 2019, Arteaga took at least $843,187.00 from victims. Prosecutors plan to seek the forfeiture of that money if Arteaga is found guilty.
“I want every one of my friends and even people that we didn’t know involved in this, I think all of us want to see justice,” Pam added.
Arteaga is due in federal court on Nov. 10.
The I-TEAM spoke with Jacksonville attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with this case. Nichols tells us the charge of wire fraud could carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. He also says the amount of money involved would factor into the sentencing, if Arteaga is found guilty.
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