Bad Checks, Phony Reservations from Chinatown Travel Agency

A former employee of Broadview Tours shows several bad checks from the travel agency to Eddie Chiu, the president of the Lin Sing Association.

A former employee of Broadview Tours shows Eddie Chiu, the president of the Lin Sing Association, several bad checks from the travel agency. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

In mid-May, Sing Tao Daily reported on the sudden shutdown of a travel agency in Chinatown which left some customers who purchased plane tickets through them in the lurch. The case has been unfolding ever since, and all Chinese-language media have been following closely. By late May, more than 400 people have registered as victims. Their losses total more than $1 million.

Here is a round-up of related stories in Sing Tao Daily. The stories were written by Faye Qiu and April Xu, and translated and summarized by Rong Xiaoqing.

Mr. Zou, who lives in New York, booked round trip airline tickets via Broadview Tours, a travel agency in Chinatown, for his aunt in Fuzhou, China, to fly to New York the morning of May 12. The tickets cost him more than $1,300. But when his 78-year-old aunt got to the Cathay Pacific terminal at the airport in Fuzhou, holding a receipt issued by Broadview Tours, she was told her information was not in the system. She was coming to the U.S. to deal with some urgent issues. Worried she may not be able to board the flight on time, the old lady started to howl in the airport. Eventually, with the help of airline staff, she bought a new set of round-trip tickets for 8,900 RMB [$1,436] at the last minute, and boarded the flight to the U.S.

When Mr. Zou went to Broadview to find out what happened, he found the door of the travel agency locked. A note on the door in both Chinese and English said, “Broadview Tours filed for bankruptcy on May 11, 2015.” The note also suggested that customers who were affected should contact the law firm of Blackman & Melville. But when Mr. Zou went to the law firm, he was told the attorney was not in. He left his contact information and nobody called him back. “The lawyer is there only to deal with the bankruptcy case for Broadview. He doesn’t care about us,” Mr. Zou said.

Mr. Lin, who purchased airline tickets and travel tours for 21 relatives last December, is in an even worse situation. The family planned to travel in August and altogether they paid about $30,000 to the travel agency. Now, not only are their purchase receipts voided, but the passports for 10 of them are still held by the agency.

Many customers of Broadview have booked tickets or tours at the agency before. Mr. Zou said that beginning two or three years ago, the travel agency started to only accept cash. Staff told customers, “We sell plane tickets at very low prices. So we can only take cash.” And cash transactions are popular among Chinese, so customers didn’t suspect anything.

Lin Sing Association, a community organization in Chinatown, has been helping Broadview’s customers who were left in the lurch by the sudden shutdown of the agency. Within 10 days after Sing Tao broke the story, more than 400 people have registered on the list of victims at Lin Sing, and the money owed them by the travel agency totals more than $1 million.

Not only have customers been victimized – former employees of the agency also went to Lin Sing to complain. Ms. Wong, who was a tour guide on the agency’s casino buses, showed Eddie Chiu, the president of Lin Sing, a pile of checks Broadview wrote to her dated back to 2010. The paychecks have a total face value of $18,000, but all of them bounced back. When asked why she didn’t tackle the problem earlier, Ms Wong said: “I have been trying all the time. Sometimes I went to the office, she [the owner] would give me a good check of $100 to cool me down. But so many years have passed, I am still owed a lot.”

Other former employees said they are also owed wages, but not to the same degree as Ms. Wong. A woman said she was “lucky” and only got one or two bad checks that were worth a little more than $1,000. She said Broadview also owes the charter companies a lot of money for renting the buses.

According to the information gathered by Chiu, Vivian Cheng, the owner of Broadview Tours, has three other companies including Broadview Logistics Inc., First Chamber Inc. and Bestway Tour & Travel. First Chamber Inc. does business as Broadview Tours. Although Broadview Tours has filed for bankruptcy, most cash transactions went through Broadview Logistics. This complex web makes it more difficult to find out where the money has gone.

What makes the already complicated case more curious is the sudden death of Eric Khok on May 17. Khok worked for Adam Travel, another tour agency located at 139 Center St., where he was in charge of the wholesale of plane tickets. He was a Malaysian Chinese and lived with his wife, Janet, in Queens. The couple doesn’t have children, and they have been working in the travel industry for more than 20 years. Janet runs another travel agency on Center Street.

According to people familiar with the situation, when Janet realized that her husband hadn’t come home on Saturday night, she called his cell phone and contacted his friends in vain. In the early morning, she went to his office and found Khok bent over on the table. She called his name, but he did not respond and didn’t move. Only when she got closer did she realize he was dead. The police investigated the scene and made a preliminary conclusion that it was a suicide.

Mr. C, Khok’s longtime friend and colleague in the travel industry, said Khok’s mood had been down since news broke that Broadview was filing for bankruptcy. Khok told co-workers he “is under great pressure, and worried he would be put in jail.”

People in the travel industry said when Broadview started to get into financial trouble, the checks that Cheng, the owner, paid to the wholesaler often bounced back. It hurt the credibility of Broadview, and soon no wholesalers would deal with Cheng anymore, unless she paid in cash. But Khok still sold tickets to Cheng before she was able to pay cash in the full amount. When Broadview filed for bankruptcy, Khok knew he wouldn’t be able to get the money back. He felt guilty for bringing losses to his company.

But Khok’s family members deny that he committed suicide. They insist that he died from a heart attack.

Two detectives from the 5th police precinct in Chinatown visited Lin Sing on May 20 to gather information for the first time. The detectives said the police didn’t pursue the complaints of customers who first went to the precinct because the tickets had been purchased voluntarily, and customers couldn’t provide evidence of the cash transaction. They said this is a complicated case and it needs further investigation. Now the police are gathering evidence and communicating with the district attorney’s office as well.

The ripples of the case have been felt in the Chinese community. Many people said they will buy airline tickets online directly, and will no longer go through a travel agency. Those who plan to continue using travel agencies said they’ll be more careful in choosing the agency and making payments.

Mr. Tan, who works in the industry, said the case of Broadview has affected the industry a lot. He said several travel agencies have seen their business go up, rather than down, in the past few days because there are still people who need to book a flight, and now there is one less competitor. But this prosperity won’t last long. He said damage to the image of the whole industry is hard to mend.

This round-up was compiled from 10 Sing Tao Daily stories, seven of which can be found online, beginning with the most recent story, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

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