Officials at Southside High School in Fort Smith, Ark., have contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice after an Oahu travel agent told them via email he had lost $267,500 paid by the school for a summer trip to Waikiki.
"This is supposed to be the culmination of their year to go to Hawaii, and for many of them it's the culmination of their band career," Sean Carrier, the band's assistant director, told KITV4 by phone from Arkansas.
Band officials knew something was amiss when the owner of the tour company Performing Hawaii Tours, Ope Saaga, stopped returning phone calls.
"It just went unanswered," band director Steve Kesner, told 40/29 TV News in Fort Smith. "Phone calls, texts, emails, you name it. We were a little concerned, but as time went on, it became more and more evident that something wasn't right."
The band had planned to come to Waikiki to participate in the Pan-Pacific Festival in early June, culminating in a parade down Kalakaua Avenue on the evening of June 10.
The director of the festival, Eric Ishizuka, told KITV4 that Saaga never registered the Southside Band to take part in any Pan-Pacific events.
"He never contacted us," said Ishizuka. "We never recommend travel agents to groups who take part."
A search of online business records shows Performing Hawaii Tours "is not in good standing" in the state of Hawaii. KITV4 reached out to Saaga by phone and email, but received no response.
Carrier provided an email from Saaga that the tour operator apparently wrote on April 19. In the email, Saaga admitted he's now in Samoa and no longer has the band's money.
"I made some terrible decision (sic) with the money and am now in the midst of trying to sell every asset I have in Samoa to pay the group back," Saaga wrote. "It will be a slow process so I beg of your patience as my number one priority (is) to get every cent I owe to the group."