Two operators of a discount travel agency could spend up to a year in jail after they pleaded no contest Tuesday to two felony charges related to an alleged consumer fraud case, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors initially charged Frank Simon DeLevi, 33, and Yevgeniy “Jim” Savitskiy, 34, with 23 felony counts related to their activities with the Fly Infinite agency between Aug. 4, 2015, and Dec. 16, 2017.
The online travel agency, based in San Mateo County, “advertised and sold what they claimed were discounted airline tickets,” prosecutors said.
Some of the tickets were never delivered to victims, some were canceled by the airline, and in one case the victims’ tickets were canceled mid-trip, prosecutors said.
The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office first learned of the case from the California Department of Justice, which regulates travel agencies and had opened an investigation into Fly Infinite after receiving numerous consumer complaints, according to Deputy District Attorney Joel McComb.
The case revolves around an airline ticket sales strategy known as “air mile bartering,” which involves people selling their unused air miles to a third party who then uses those miles to buy tickets that they sell at a discount, McComb said.
“Our position is that it’s not legal because no airline, as far as we’re aware, allows this air mile bartering,” McComb said. “If an airline determines that a ticket is acquired that way, they will cancel the ticket.”
McComb said that he doesn’t know if all the tickets sold by Fly Infinite during the time period in question were acquired via this strategy, but said “we believe that was the type of tickets that were involved with the victims named in our complaint.”
Savitskiy, a Danville resident, and DeLevi, who lives in Pacifica, are accused of refusing to issue refunds in the amount of $67,774 and also of using $108,349 of victims’ money on personal and business expenses.
California law categorizes travel agencies as fiduciaries and requires them to keep clients’ money in trust accounts so that it can be refunded if the travel people paid for isn’t delivered.
On Tuesday, both men pleaded no contest to one count each of failure to return funds to a passenger and withdrawal of money from a trust account for personal or business use without having provided the promised airline tickets, both felonies.
In exchange, the two will avoid state prison but could spend up to one year in San Mateo County Jail.
Their plea agreement, however, says that they could spend six months or less in jail if they repay their victims — including those not listed in the complaint — by the time of sentencing, which is scheduled for April 30, 2020, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The plea agreement lists a minimum restitution amount of $136,111.
Also, because Savitskiy and DeLevi pleaded to felony charges, they are not allowed to register as California “sellers of travel” for seven years, McComb said.
It’s unclear, however, if the two continue to operate as travel agents under the banner of a new company called Your Business Flights.
“The Fly Infinite that led to the case we brought appears to have been essentially shut down and replaced with Your Business Flights,” McComb said.
That company is registered under the name of Kristina DeLevi, Frank DeLevi’s wife, McComb said.
“This occurred during the course of prosecuting the case. That’s our understanding,” he said. “Whether or not they are indirectly running the business would be something we’d have to investigate.”
The new company has addresses in Oakland and Las Vegas, according to records with the California Department of Justice.
Though Frank DeLevi declined to comment on the case, Jeffrey Hayden, the defense attorney for both men, said his clients were both young men when they started the business and thought they found a technology that would not only give them an edge but also save people money while they were traveling.
“I don’t think they understood or appreciated at the time that they were bypassing regulations,” he said. “I don’t think they anticipated the extent to which people were affected.”
Hayden said everyone who was affected will be made whole and the full amount the men are required to pay back to the victims has been set aside in a trust fund so their money can be returned.