JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Several new developments have surfaced in an I-TEAM investigation involving a Jacksonville man at the center of a nationwide travel scandal.
Juan Arteaga is accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from people across the country, and then failing to book the trips and vacations they paid him for.
Arteaga is now being fined by the state, is at the center of an active investigation, and has a family member speaking out against him.
I-TEAM confronts Juan Arteaga
Since our first I-TEAM report Jan. 23 on television and online, 35 families from 11 states have now reached out to us about Arteaga.
They tell us they paid Arteaga thousands of dollars to purchase plane tickets, hotels, cruises and other vacation packages. However, despite paying him up front and in full as he required, they claim Arteaga didn't book their trips and didn't return their money.
The I-TEAM has been looking for Arteaga to get his side of the story, but when we finally found him, he refused to answer any of our questions.
Juan Arteaga: Leave my property. Leave my property.
Vic Micolucci: Can we talk to you, Juan?
Micolucci: We just want to get your side of the story.
We spotted Arteaga Friday afternoon inside the garage of the same Fort Carolina home that he sold the week before as a deed in lieu of foreclosure. We walked up the driveway and tried to ask him questions, but he shut the garage door.
Arteaga's brother-in-law speaks out
While Arteaga wouldn't talk to us, his own brother-in-law did. Mike, who works in the Jacksonville area and didn't want us to show his face, says he's coming forward because he feels it's the right thing to do.
"I have 40 plus years from watching a lot transpire. I am here to help you and help the people that you're trying to help," Mike told the I-TEAM.
Mike's sister is Arteaga's wife.
"So is it greed?" we asked Mike.
"If you wanna call it that," he answered.
"What do you call it?" we asked.
"Again it is the money. He (Juan Arteaga) has created a lifestyle for himself and he found a way to fund it," said Mike. "I agree, yes, it is ripping people off but, did he intentionally like go to the bank and say like hey give me my money? No, I don't think that's what it was. He found a way to get the money up front a few times and, you know, it was perfectly legitimate, but then as time went on and he had other troubles, he maybe found his way to fund it."
Mike tells us the fallout for Arteaga has been severe. His wife of 40 years left him after she saw our I-TEAM reports. He's also out of his job as a pharmaceutical rep for Bausch + Lomb. The company comfirmed that, telling us in a statement:
We expect our employees to adhere to our company’s Standards of Business Conduct. While we can’t comment further on this matter, we can confirm Mr. Arteaga is no longer an employee of the company.
"What should happen in your opinion?" we asked Mike.
"Let the law take its course," he answered. "You know I have no intention for revenge or anything like that. I just feel for the people who were taken advantage of, and you know, I'm glad to see people like you step in and hopefully you know, make it right for them."
State fines Arteaga as investigation continues
While Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services continues to actively investigate all the claims made against Arteaga, it's taking immediate action against him.
The agency, which regulates travel agents throughout the state, has fined Arteaga $1,000 for failing to register as a travel agent, a requirement by Florida law.
When the I-TEAM first contacted the agency last month during our initial investigation into Arteaga, Commissioner Nikki Fried gave us the following statement:
“Protecting consumers from fraud and scams is one of our top priorities. Anyone found to be violating the law or taking advantage of Floridians will be held accountable. We are aware of this situation, and the matter is under investigation by our department’s law enforcement professionals.”
That agency started with two complaints against Arteaga, and as of last week, that number grew to nearly two dozen. You can file a complaint online with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services here.
The Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody is also asking those with information about deceptive business practices involving Arteaga to file a complaint with its office by calling (866) 9NO-SCAM or by going online to MyFloridaLegal.com.