I-Team: Westbrook organization keeps customer money after canceled trip to Olympics
NATIONWIDE (WGME) -- The I-Team investigates complaints from across the country about a national organization based in Westbrook.
Customers tell us they paid thousands of dollars for a trip to last summer's Olympics, but the National Association of African American Studies canceled and customers are still waiting for refunds.
"This is a lifetime opportunity to attend the Olympics, to see this country, my country the United States being represented like that," said Meredith McWilliams.
Documents show the trip McWilliams planned and paid for was canceled just a month before the start of the games.
"It was very disturbing and upsetting," McWilliams said.
Checks and receipts show he paid NAAAS nearly $6,000 for a trip for two to the summer games.
Brenda Todd from Cleveland, Ohio, was supposed to go with him.
"Maybe one day I will go; right now I'm just trying to get my money back," Todd said.
Darla Beadle from Pasadena, California, is waiting to get her money back, too.
"We were really, really devastated," Beadle said.
According to her checks and receipts, she paid the organization $6,000 so she and her mom could go to the Olympics.
"Paid every single dime to the penny even before the money was due and never went on the trip. Unfortunately, we watched it on TV," Beadle.
They all got a cancellation letter dated last July from executive director Lemuel Berry, Jr.
The letters say 108 people signed up for the trip but many dropped out because of the zika virus.
In the letter, Berry said with just 37 people who still wanted to go, he was canceling the trip.
"He stated on different occasions that he would refund the money, but it's just been words. We haven't seen the action," McWilliams said.
Customers we spoke with got partial refunds in May, less than half of what they paid, and are still waiting for the rest.
"They still had the Olympics. Our position is you canceled the trip, you should give us our money back," Todd said.
Berry didn't respond to phone calls or emails from the I-Team so we went to his office in Westbrook.
The door was locked and Berry never called us back.
Even though the organization has a sticker on the door suggesting it is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, the BBB told us it revoked the business accreditation in January, giving it a D- rating.
The Maine Attorney General's Office confirms it's now working to mediate complaints from customers.
"The purpose of our mediation program is to get the two sides together to come up with a solution that works for everyone," complaint examiner Martha Currier said.
Currier said she couldn't talk specifics, but mediation emails sent to Berry and obtained by the I-Team confirm Berry still owes more than half of the trip costs for the Rio trip that he canceled.
"He's saying that the people in Brazil have not paid him and that's why he hasn't paid us," Todd said.
A mediation email to Berry goes on to say "the complainants had a contract with NAAAS not with any Brazilian businesses. So you are the one they are looking to for a refund."
Currier says she suggests you always book travel with a credit card.
"Once you use a credit card and you don't get the service you paid for, in this case, a trip, you can call the credit card company and ask them to refund your money because you didn't get what you paid for," Currier said.
The Office of the Maine Attorney General says if you were supposed to be part of this trip to the Olympics and are still waiting for a refund, they'd like to hear from you.
- 6 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04333