Perpetrator of Cuban travel scam gets prison time

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An Orange County travel promoter who accepted deposits on trips to Cuba has been sentenced to five years in state prison. The promoter never made good on those deposits.

It’s possible for Americans to travel to Cuba, but only if they have relatives on the island, work as journalists and academics, or participate in organized cultural exchanges and religious or humanitarian endeavors.

Ralph Rendon zeroed in on the religious travelers. He advertised in magazines for Jews and Orthodox Christians, promoting trips that would connect them with Cubans who practice those faiths. Rendon sold 41 of the trips and took partial or full payment, then told his customers that the U.S. Treasury Department had canceled the trips.

Prosecutors charged that instead of returning the money, Rendon spent it on a luxury car, rent payments, and a divorce lawyer. The travel agent pleaded guilty to one count of grand theft in Orange County Superior Court. In addition to his prison time, he’ll also have to pay $154,000 in restitution to the people who’d hoped he’d ease their way to Cuba.