Travel Agent Sentenced for Fraud

By: Lisa Ferrari
By: Lisa Ferrari

October 17, 2006

A local travel agent convicted of bilking her clients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, found out her fate in federal court Tuesday.

Barbara Blackwell the owner of a Charlottesville travel agency that booked group trips to Australia was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of more than $300,000 to her many victims.

Blackwell pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud last year. In U.S. District Court Tuesday, she apologized to her victims saying she was sorry and should have closed down her business.

Victoria Gee of World Travel was one of those victims. “Justice has been done and now it’s closed and we can go on,” she said, leaving the court house.

Blackwell took Gee and World Travel for about $50,000.

“It was right around the time of 9/11 so that added to it. I think she barely survived this. And...she was a friend of Barbara Blackwell’s. So to be betrayed this way is obviously very emotionally traumatic for her,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean Hudson.

U.S. Attorneys say Blackwell operated Experience Australia Tours out of her home on Ivy Ridge Road. She would pocket client's checks intended for airline tickets and use the money to pay her mortgage, buy a car or stay off debt collectors and then she would pay for those client airline tickets by charging them to other people's credit cards.

Blackwell was ordered to pay restitution, but it’s unlikely any of the victims will see their stolen money again.

“No, I know I won't,” said Gee.

“There are no funds that I am aware of that could repay these victims,” said Hudson.

There were many other victims as well. In all U.S. Attorneys say 47 people, 14 travel agencies and various credit card companies all lost thousands at the hands of Barbara Blackwell.

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