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Authorities examining closure of Hollywood Tours, which canceled trips for many

SPRING HILL — Silvia Pinto waited and waited Monday morning in a Spring Hill parking lot for a tour bus that was never going to show.

It was supposed to take her and three others to Miami for a quick sightseeing trip.

Total cost for the group: $716.

Pinto was never informed the bus wasn't coming. She never received notice the trip had been canceled.

And she certainly never heard that the company organizing the trip, Hollywood Tours, suddenly had shut its office on Kass Circle the week before, canceling hundreds of trips that already had been purchased.

"I didn't know what was happening," Pinto said, her voice heavy with frustration. "I called, and nobody answered. We stopped at the office."

There, she saw the sign taped to the door notifying customers the company was closed and all trips scheduled after Nov. 12 were canceled.

"That's not right," the Spring Hill resident said. "You don't do this to people. I can't believe that this is happening."

Pinto isn't alone.

More than a dozen angry and perplexed customers from across the region called the Tampa Bay Times after a story about the company's abrupt closure was published in Sunday's newspaper.

Most had the same question:

How can we get our money back?

Several called the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to file reports.

As of Tuesday morning, the Sheriff's Office had received 15 complaints and was in the process of reviewing them to determine if a crime had occurred. There was no immediate evidence of criminal activity, spokeswoman Denise Moloney wrote in an email.

On Friday, Hollywood Tours Florida Inc. filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which generally ends with liquidation. The company's president is Nina Bode, and the registered agent is her husband, Garrett Bode, a Tampa chiropractor. The couple live in Oldsmar.

There are more than 400 creditors listed in the bankruptcy filings, the vast majority of which appear to be customers.

The creditors come from across the Tampa Bay area, though the majority appear to live in Hernando, Pasco and northern Pinellas counties.

The company's assets are estimated under $50,000, while its estimated liabilities are between $100,000 and $500,000.

The Bodes' lawyer, Elena Ketchum of Tampa, has not returned phone calls from the Times.

In bankruptcy cases such as this, a trustee is assigned to identify if there are any remaining assets, and the assets can possibly be dispersed to customers.

Meanwhile, many customers are shocked this happened to them. And they're skeptical that they will ever get their money back.

Theresa Mannucci of Hudson lost $295 on a trip that was supposed to take her and seven others to New Orleans. They're all widows.

"That was my first and my last bus trip," the 82-year-old Mannucci said.

She and many others say they were encouraged by the company to pay by check. She regretted that decision, saying it would be easier to get her money back had she paid with a credit card.

Christine Paolucci of Brooksville said she's gone on trips with Hollywood Tours before and had been pleased with the company.

"This came as a shock," she said. "I didn't expect this to happen."

State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, has weighed in on the issue after reading the story in the Times.

He is sending a letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, asking her to open an investigation into possible criminal activity targeting the elderly.

"As you are well aware, many senior citizens live on fixed incomes," Fasano wrote. "The cost of a bus trip to enjoy Christmas events in St. Augustine, or a short trip to the Smoky Mountains, comes out of pockets that for the most part are not deep. The financial sacrifice many of the seniors have made to enjoy a little time away apparently has been sacrificed to the owners of this now defunct company."

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.

Authorities examining closure of Hollywood Tours, which canceled trips for many 11/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 8:18pm]
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