Students at a New Jersey high school French club lost thousands of dollars when the travel agency they used to arrange a week-long trip to France abruptly closed, leaving them with no arrangements or accommodations for their planned trip.
The Westwood High School French club had been planning to travel to Paris this summer until the Mariden USA travel agency declared in an email it was going bankrupt. The company left no information about flights or hotels and did not indicate what would happen to the $3,500 each student paid for the trip.
"We took jobs to pay for it, and I feel like that is just for nothing," said junior Matthew Untalan.
Senior Emily Griffin mourned the loss of a chance to "go and learn French with my two best friends."
"I just feel like somebody grabbed my pocketbook that had $3,500 in it and ran down the street," said parent Darlene Kane.
Parents said they trusted the company because the school had used it a few years ago for similar tours. But they did not know that in the past three years, there have been a dozen complaints against the company, first with the Better Business Bureau and then with the Virginia attorney general.
The BBB rated Mariden USA an F, the worst possible score, citing 14 closed complaints and three open. Virginia's attorney general said there have been six complaints filed about canceled trips since 2011; one has been resolved.
Phone messages and emails to the Alexandria, Va.-based company were not returned.
"It's not right to steal from children, and I don't know how they live with themselves. I couldn't," said parent Ann Eichorn.
Most parents paid for travel insurance, but some were told their policy would not cover loss from the company going bankrupt. Whatever the outcome, the parents wanted to warn others of also becoming potential victims.