Safe from Scams: Trip of a lifetime

FRESNO, Calif.

The Vatican is home to the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and some of the world's most famous paintings and sculptures.

So, when a travel company called Christian Pilgrims began advertising in church bulletins about the trip of a lifetime, it was very alluring.

"The travel company arranged for trips to Rome, Poland and other religious sites in Europe," said U.S. Postal Inspector Al Herzog.

The cost was between $3,000 and $10,000 depending on the tour.

As the brochure shows, the founder of Christian Pilgrims, 75-year-old John Baird, ran many successful excursions.

"In brochures he portrayed himself to be very well connected to the Vatican. Some of these brochures not only had pictures of him from previous trips that did happen, but pictures of himself with Pope John Paul," said Herzog.

Then, something went wrong.

"At some point in time, he began to encounter personal and business financial problems. When that happened, trips didn't happen," said Herzog.

Customers were left with no trip and no refund. In fact, more than 50 victims lost $400,000.

"Some of these people actually went to the airport the day they were supposed to leave and found out that there was no trip to go on because there was no one to meet them there to give them their tickets," said Herzog.

One lesson from this case: always report situations like this one to authorities, including postal inspectors.

"This case started with people making complaints to us, people who lost money, those peoples saved all of their documentation, they made notes of their correspondence with the defendant, and all of that information was invaluable in the investigating the case in proving that people were lied to," said Herzog.

The suspect -- John Baird -- is now serving a five-year federal prison sentence and has been ordered to pay restitution to the victims.

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