Westport travel agent held on bail for bilking seniors out of trip money
Published 12:21 pm, Wednesday, November 24, 2010
A Westport travel agent, accused of stealing more than $36,000 from a group of 54 Stratford senior citizens who had booked a trip through him, won't be traveling anywhere soon after a judge Tuesday refused to reduce his bond.
Heyel, 67, of Washington Avenue, is accused of taking $36,337 from the seniors who live at Oronoque Village Condominiums for a three-day trip to Branson, Mo., and pocketing the money instead of booking the accommodations.
During the court hearing, Heyel's lawyer, Daniel Lyons, called the $10,000 cash bond keeping his client in prison excessive and urged the judge to reduce it.
He argued that his client manages a bus company and could start the process of paying the victims back if he were free.
But State's Attorney John Smriga questioned the validity of Heyel's bus company job, pointing out the defendant has been accused of stealing money from seniors here and in New York while operating under the names of a number of fictitious travel companies.
"I believe a significant bond is called for in this case," he told the judge.
Thim agreed and kept the bond as it is. He continued the case to Jan. 6.
"At least at this stage justice was served," said Rosemary Boone, one of a half-dozen of the seniors who Heyel is accused of swindling, who were sitting in the courtroom during the proceeding. "He is getting what he deserves."
According to police, the senior citizens booked a three-day trip through Heyel to Branson in April 2009. The trip included bus transportation, three nights at a hotel and tickets to six shows.
The trip was supposed to take place in October 2009, but police said about a week beforehand Heyel called Boone, the leader of the group, and told her he would need an additional $80 per person. When Boone balked at paying the extra money, police said, Heyel threatened that if the group didn't pay the trip would be canceled.
Police added that Boone became suspicious and contacted the hotel where the Oronoque group was supposed to be staying only to find that Heyel had never reserved the accommodations. She also learned that Heyel had never booked any tickets for the shows they wanted to attend, police said.
Police said they went to the office building on Charles Street in Westport that Heyel listed in his travel brochures as his office. They said the owner of the building, Robert Sloat, confirmed Heyel had an office there, but added, "If you find him tell him to pay the money he owes for his rent."
Police said they later learned that Heyel, who has also operated as American Heritage Tours and Amtrak Tours, has been accused of defrauding senior citizens in other states. In June 2008, a New York court ordered him to pay $23,000 in restitution to senior groups.