Woman accused of bilking Essence Fest travelers is arrested

Published: Aug. 8, 2018 at 7:15 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2018 at 10:08 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The owner of a Jefferson Parish travel agency accused of bilking Essence Festival attendees out of thousands of dollars for vacation packages she didn't deliver has been arrested by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.

Nakesia Washington of Harvey was booked Aug. 2 with theft of more than $25,000, theft valued between $5,000 and $24,999 and two counts of computer fraud, said Lt. Jason Rivarde, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.    Rivarde  says the sheriff's office has been receiving complaints from several dozen people who say they paid Washington's agency, OBL Travel,  money for hotel reservations, party passes and tickets to the music festival that were never delivered.  So far, Rivarde estimates the losses at about $80,000 and says that number is growing.  In addition to charges filed by the JPSO, Washington could also face federal charges.  Rivarde says the department is working with the FBI.

The Fox 8 Defenders did several stories on OBL Travel shortly before the Essence Fest began.  Some people told us they had no choice but to cancel their trip to New Orleans, after learning their trip wasn't paid for as promised.  Others, like Kerry Gouff didn't find out until arriving at the hotel in New Orleans that the reservations she thought she paid for through the OBL Travel Company were not secured. She said they had no option but to pony up an additional 12 hundred dollars on top of the thousand dollars she's already spent. And she's not alone in her story.

"We were looking forward to a great time booked some travel and things didn't go as planned," said Gouff.

IKiesha Howard and her group discovered the issue with their hotel stay before arriving. And while experiencing Essence Fest, OBL Travel comes up frequently in conversations.

"From the taxis to the Lyft drivers the restaurant vendors everywhere; it's an epidemic across Louisiana everyone knows what's going on in New Orleans regarding this whole OBL travel it's been hundreds of people affected by this," she said.

We've tried to contact OBL Travel's owner, Nakesia Washington for several weeks through phone, email, social media. She's even promoting reservations for next year's Essence Fest on her website, but Washington has not answered any of our calls. She did send out an email to her customers. In it she apologizes and says she did not have malicious intent, is trying to resolve the issue, and promises people will be reimbursed.

Both women said they paid Washington through a third-party site, Eventbrite with credit and debit cards, but have not received the promised reimbursements.

FOX 8 legal analyst, Joe Raspanti says despite the criminal charges that have now been filed, trying to recoup money from victims would hav to come from a civil suit.

"You can sue the pope for pandering on Poydras street but you're not going to collect any money these people will probably fly by night and they're not the Hartford Insurance Company so they probably won't collect; their best avenue is criminal restitution," said Raspanti.

Gouff and Howard have different ideas about what really happened with OBL Travel, but both have filed police reports to try and recoup their money.

"Too much money was coming in at one time and she got a little too happy and a little too greedy," said Gouff.

"I think that she had a really bad turnout she got in over her head a lot of money came in and she didn't account for funds properly," said Howard.

I reached out to the state attorney general's office to see if they were investigating the claims. They told me they cannot comment on any potential investigation. They encourage anyone affected to call the AG's consumer protection hotline at 800-351-4849.The Orleans parish district attorney's office did not return our calls with questions about whether they're investigating OBL travel.

The FOX 8 Defenders, staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women, field consumer complaints at 1-877-670-6397, or you can fill out an online complaint form.

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