A North Carolina travel agent is accused of stealing over $25,000 from people he booked on an Alaskan cruise that he later claimed had been canceled.

Eric Johnson, owner of Statesville-based Carolina Blue Tours, allegedly ended up going on the cruise himself and kept people’s money for his personal use, Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell said Wednesday in announcing felony charges against the 43-year-old Statesville man.

Johnson told The Charlotte Observer on Wednesday that he reimbursed everyone for the cruise. He referred further questions to his lawyer, Matthew Benton, who didn’t return an email requesting comment.

Johnson was charged this week with six counts of felony obtaining property by false pretense, Campbell said in a news release. He is free on $6,000 secured bond.

How did authorities find out?

The case dates to late July, when an 83-year-old woman filed a fraud report claiming that she and other residents had been scammed out of their cruise, according to the sheriff’s office news release.

“The victim reported that exactly one day before her scheduled departure date, the owner of the travel agency canceled the trip due to personal reasons and would not issue an immediate refund,” Campbell said in the release.

Sheriff’s investigators identified more victims during the five-month investigation, Campbell said. Deputies also obtained search warrants for Johnson’s financial records and his company’s account history with Royal Caribbean, the cruise line that hosted the Alaskan cruise, the sheriff said.

Those records showed that funds were transferred from Johnson’s business account into his personal accounts and that he allegedly paid for personal trips from his business account, according to the news release.

Agent’s account history

A review of Johnson’s account history with Royal Caribbean shows he allegedly failed to book reservations for all of the victims who paid for the cruise, Campbell said.

“In fact, it was determined that Johnson had personally attended the cruise after informing all of the victims that the cruise had been canceled,” Campbell said.

Johnson also is accused of filing a fake dispute with his financial institution in which he denied taking a personal trip to New York, Campbell said. Johnson received about $4,000 as a result of the fraudulent dispute, the sheriff said.

Low BBB rating

Carolina Blue Tours has a D+ rating by the Better Business Bureau.

The low rating was given because of a failure to reply to a customer complaint, according to the BBB website.

The website doesn’t detail the nature of the complaint but also says the business has not been accredited by the BBB.

This story was originally published January 3, 2024, 2:11 PM.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.
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