Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ticket to Ride

Remeber folks, the two things we should always, always remember.

1. if its too good to be true it probably isn't a good thing; and

2. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Two face prison in airline ticket scam
Guillermo ContrerasExpress-News

Thousands of stolen Southwest Airlines ticket vouchers took people anywhere the airline flies.
For ex-Southwest employee Althea Jackson and her husband, James Jackson, a former bailiff at the Bexar County Courthouse, the tickets will take them to prison for at least two years.

Months after a judge all but killed a federal prosecution in the case, the Jacksons on Tuesday pleaded guilty to wire fraud for stealing, selling and distributing more than 5,600 of Southwest's "Non-Revenue Must Ride" ticket vouchers, which are normally free.
The Jacksons will face between 24 and 30 months in prison in exchange for their pleas to the federal felony. They'll be sentenced in May.

The scandal embarrassed public officials who bought the vouchers — apparently unaware of the fraud — and Southwest says the scam cost it several million dollars in lost profit.

The green-colored vouchers, normally given to inconvenienced passengers or those who had aided the airline, were sold or given away at the courthouse and elsewhere in San Antonio and Houston. Many ended up in the hands of judges, prosecutors, public officials and others who do business at the courthouse and the adjoining Cadena Reeves Justice Center, where James Jackson served as bailiff for County Court-at-Law Judge Monica Guerrero.
Jackson sold them for $100 to $200 — substantially less than the market price, federal officials allege. The vouchers also gave the bearer the privilege of getting on any flight, anytime there was an open seat.

Althea Jackson, an administrative aide at Southwest's headquarters in Dallas from 2001 to 2005, admitted taking them under pretenses that she was going to give them to customers.

Most of the vouchers were taken in 2004 and 2005, according to court records.

Guerrero, fellow County Court-at-Law Judge Karen Crouch, District Clerk Margaret Montemayor, District Attorney Susan Reed and their associates or staff traveled on the vouchers, according to an early list of passengers compiled for federal authorities by Southwest and obtained by the San Antonio Express-News.

In previous interviews, the public officials have said they were unaware the tickets had been stolen or taken without permission from the airline. Some said they assumed they were frequent-flier vouchers, although the items clearly state they are not for resale.
Some vouchers were sold or distributed by the Jacksons' friends, who created their own informal networks, according to court paperwork and other documents.

Asked about complaints from the public that high-profile passengers might have received special favors, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Counts said, "Nobody got any breaks. We tried to identify the people who committed federal crimes. Are there people who bought tickets through this scheme? Absolutely, but ... many of them purchased them unwittingly."

Eight people — another bailiff and a juvenile court security officer among them — were, like the Jacksons, originally charged with access-device fraud.

But U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in December 2006 that the tickets were not access devices like debit cards and threw out the indictment against the eight defendants. The Jacksons did not challenge the indictment, however, but agreed to the wire fraud plea.
Restitution is still undetermined. Figures tossed around as losses to the airline are $1.8 million to $3 million, but the Jacksons' lawyer, Jay Norton, questioned that.

"They've accepted their responsibility," he said of the Jacksons. "This is an anomaly in conduct for both of them. They've done a lot of good in the community. They're sorry any of this ever occurred."

The Jacksons agreed to forfeit a 2006 Lincoln Mark LT pickup, a 1999 Ford Ranger pickup, a 2004 Lexus wagon, a 42-inch plasma television, jewelry and almost $12,000 seized from one of their bank accounts.