Travel agent takes $34K and vanishes

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PHOENIX -- To say Ed Jones loves architecture is an understatement. He owns his own architecture firm here in Phoenix. After decades in the business, he says he's still learning the trade from other cultures.

"The best part of being older is you finally have the finances to travel," Jones said.

And that's why Jones and other architect friends travel somewhere in the world once a year just to study architecture. Their most memorable trip was in Havana, Cuba, where they photographed countless buildings.

This year, Jones and his friends were going to travel to South America. So, he started dealing with a travel agency called The Latin America Travel Mall, owned by a guy named Jaime Lopez. Jones said he was really impressed with the guy's knowledge. He said Lopez was very professional and, obviously, he's been in the travel business as a professional.

That professional travel agent drew up an itinerary for Jones and even made reservations. In turn, Jones collected money from his buddies and wired Lopez a $3,700 down payment. And why not? Jones says the vacation plans were coming along just fine.

"The itinerary was very professional," Jones said.

As that South American trip got closer, Lopez and The Latin America Travel Club needed the rest of the money. Jones collected the funds and wired an additional $30,000 to Lopez. Jones said after wiring all that money, he never heard from Lopez again.

"I was crushed, devastated, not to mention embarrassed and extremely disappointed," Jones said.

3 On Your Side got involved and discovered The Latin America Travel Mall was run out of a tiny home in Paramount, Calif. The house was sold right around the time Jones wired all of that money. As for The Latin America Travel Mall's website, it's gone. The owner, Lopez, is gone and the $34,000 he took from Jones is also gone.

Feeling responsible for the entire mess, Jones reimbursed his friends out of his own pocket, meaning he's personally out $34,000.

"It just makes me really angry when people take advantage of other people, where they just steal," Jones said. "He's in the business of stealing money from other people."

Lopez is currently under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. I'll let you what happens to him. In the meantime, this is another reminder to never wire money to a company or a person you do not know.