JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It started with one family member in Arizona contacting the I-TEAM about thousands of dollars paid to a Jacksonville man to purchase a family reunion cruise that was never booked. In the days following our story on TV and online, two dozen families in 10 states contacted us with a similar tale and a similar fear that they will never get the travel they paid for or their money refunded.
People say they paid Juan Arteaga for discounted travel
People who have contacted the I-TEAM all say Juan Arteaga promised them everything from flights to hotels to cruises at a discounted price. All they had to do to get the cheaper price was to pay for the entire trip up front.
Many told the I-TEAM, at first, they got their trips -- even though they would often have to wait until the last minute to receive confirmation numbers and plane tickets from him. But they say, most of the time, it all worked out. They then recommended Arteaga to their friends, neighbors and family members as a way to travel and take vacations at a lower cost.
But recently, they say something went wrong, despite paying thousands of dollars up front to Arteaga via Venmo, Apple Pay, wire transfers or checks. Some tell us they learned Arteaga only paid their deposits -- enough to generate a confirmation number.
Some say they called the cruise line only to learn their rooms were never booked. Others say they showed up at hotels and airports before they found out their reservation was never paid or made at all.
Twenty-four complaints have now come to the I-TEAM from Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Washington State.
One of the 24 complaints come from a Jacksonville woman who now considers herself a former friend of Juan Arteaga. They were close friends, too. She showed the I-TEAM photographs of when she and her husband traveled with Arteaga and his wife. But there were red flags when it came to Arteaga booking her vacations.
"He said now this looks like a pretty good deal, Lee, so I don’t want you to tell my wife about this because I think we would like to go along on this. So he said don’t say anything to her," she said. "We sent him the money and it also had to be in six different checks. He wanted certain amounts of money on each check which we can show you."
But $70,000 cash and unbooked trips ended that friendship.
"He was using our money to pay people back and not booking our flights and our trips," she explained. "To find out everyone you recommended is having the same problem. I feel terrible for the people I recommended Juan to."
She doesn't know how, but her family's demands worked. She says Arteaga finally returned their money but she fears others won't be as lucky.
"There is no wholesaler, which he is telling everyone he deals with," she warned.
Another complaint against Juan Arteaga comes from a Jacksonville woman who says she was a happy customer. She said Arteaga was recommended to her by a relative as a person who could help her travel at a discounted price.
She said she had used him in the past for travel with no problems. But, when she and three of her friends booked a Las Vegas vacation through Arteaga, she was shocked when they got to the famous Strip.
"We get to the hotel and the hotel tells us that, 'you are only booked for the night.' We had two rooms and he did not book through the entire weekend. He only paid for the first night in full," she explained.
She tells us Arteaga promised to fix the mistake by morning, but that didn't happen.
"I get a text from him saying, 'Hey this is somebody with Juan‘s phone in possession. He’s been admitted to the hospital' and he doesn’t believe this issue has been resolved," she said.
They never got it resolved. They ended up having to pay additional money for rooms at a different hotel where they could afford to stay and then realized their flights were only booked one-way. So, they had to pay even more money for their plane tickets home.
"He left us hanging. He basically left us stranded in Vegas without any word of what’s going on," she said. "I would like to be reimbursed. I would like all of those families to be reimbursed and, hopefully, he stops doing that to people."
How to file a complaint against Juan Arteaga
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Florida agency that regulates and oversees the travel agents throughout the state, has an active investigation open on Juan Arteaga. But, it's not the first time.
In 2006, Arteaga was accused of acting as a travel agent -- which requires a person to be licensed and bonded. The agency confirms to the I-TEAM he is not licensed and bonded and never has been. Documents show, during that investigation, Arteaga denied acting as travel agent and told an investigator he "has no plans to sell travel in the future."
If you have a complaint against Juan Arteaga, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services asked the I-TEAM to direct you to file a complaint online. Find a direct link here.