'Trip of a lifetime' never happened

Dozens lose thousands of dollars with no trip, no refund

Author: Jodi Mohrmann, Managing editor of special projects, jmohrmann@wjxt.com
Published On: Feb 10 2014 10:33:31 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 11 2014 06:45:00 AM EST

It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime,  but instead dozens of victims lost close to a half million dollars.

A travel company called "Christian Pilgrims" began advertising in church bulletins a trip to see the Vatican, home of the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and some of the world's most famous paintings and sculptures.  The trip was very alluring.

"The travel company arranged for trips to Rome, Poland and other religious spots in Europe," explained U.S. Postal Inspector Al Herzog.

The cost was between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on the tour.  The brochure showed the founder of Christian Pilgrims, 75-year-old John Biard, ran many successful excursions.

"In brochures he portrayed himself to be very well connected to the Vatican. Some of these brochures not only had pictures of him from previous trips that did happen but pictures of himself with Pope John Paul," said Herzog.

Then something went wrong.

"At some point in time, he began to encounter personal and business financial problems..when that happened trips didn't happen," Herzog explained.

Customers were left with no trip and no refund. In fact, more than 50 victims lost $400,000.

"Some of these people actually went to the airport the day they were supposed to leave and found out that there was no trip to go on because there was no one to meet them there with their tickets," said Herzog.

One lesson from this case is you should always report situations like this one to authorities, including postal inspectors.

"This case started with people making complaints to us, people who lost money, those peoples saved all of their documentation, they made notes of their correspondence with the defendant and all of that information was invaluable in the investigating case in proving that people were lied to," added Herzog.

Because of the case postal inspectors were able to build with victim complaints, Baird is now serving a five-year federal prison sentence and has been ordered to pay restitution to the victims.