Bogus travel agent has her wings clipped

Bellville - A bogus travel agent’s involvement in an online discount air ticket scam has cost her a R50 000 fine on multiple fraud charges, plus a five- year suspended jail sentence on a charge of conspiracy to commit fraud.

Margarette Angela Marais, 38, a mother of two, appeared in the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court in Cape Town on Thursday, before Magistrate Sabrina Sonnenberg.

The case took the form of a plea bargain negotiated between defence lawyer Siraj Parker and prosecutor Jacques Smith.

She was sentenced to five years, suspended for five years, on the conspiracy charge.

In addition, she was sentenced to a R100 000 fine, or six years, of which half was suspended for five years, on 62 fraud counts.

On the fraud charges, she was also sentenced to three years house arrest.

On a further charge of money laundering, she was sentenced to five years imprisonment, suspended for five years.

As part of her house arrest, she has to render service as a cleaner at the Bishop Lavis police station on the Cape Flats.

In the scam, discounted air tickets were advertised, to be purchased only for cash or bank or money market transactions, and purchases could only take place by way of financial instructions.

Victims would deposit the cash into an instructed bank account, provided by a syndicate, after which the syndicate orders the tickets electronically.

The syndicate pays for the tickets with compromised bank cards.

In the plea bargain document, Marais admitted to being the bogus travel agent, and that victims’ deposits were paid into her own private bank account.

According to the document, she duped victims into believing that they were buying legitimate discounted airline tickets for cash.

The scam involved 62 victims and payments totalling R287 183 were made between October 2013 and July last year.

According to the document, of the total amount involved, she only received R50 000 as commission on the ticket sales.

The document says Marais made a “complete and compelling” disclosure of her total involvement in the scam, and has undertaken to testify as a state witness at pending prosecutions against other members of the syndicate.

Marais’ testimony would be crucial in the pending prosecutions, and she has “unequivocally declared her availability to testify”, as part of the plea negotiations, the document said.

It said she had lost the trust of her family, as well as her dignity and standing in her community.

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