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N4T Investigators: Where’s the money? Update

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TUCSON (KVOA) - We have a major development in a story the News 4 Tucson Investigators have been covering for years.

We're talking about Cienega High School students and their parents who paid a tour company for a grad trip they never received

It's been years and people are still wondering where's the money?  

Travel agency owner, George Barragan said he is guilty of one count of mail fraud. 

Last week, he accepted a plea deal. He admitted to taking money from six different high school student groups from 2015 to 2018. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said combined they lost at least $150,000.  

"Mr. Barragan is a con-artist," Mike Urlich said. "He's pleading out because he knows it's in the best interest of himself and not the people that he defrauded."

This includes a group from Cienega High School that Mike's daughter was a part of. They paid Barragan's company, Senior Grad Trips, $40,000. However, when it came time to leave, buses never showed.  

Cienega High School's former principal, Nemer Hassey said Barragan, "...was a criminal that swindled people out of money." 

At the time, we asked Barragan, where's the money? 

Over the phone, he told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "The $40,000 is in our account to give it back to them. So, that's what we're processing."  

But years later, Mike tells us, "No one's received that money..." 

The Cienega High School group ended up taking a trip to Disneyland thanks to community donations.  

As for Barragan, what are the terms of his plea deal? We cannot say. The DOJ told us it's not currently available to the public. All we know for now is that he plead guilty to one count of mail fraud. 

"That was a little disturbing to me that it was only for one count," Urlich said.

"There were other counts that were not brought up today, so I would like to hear what happened with the other counts," Hassey said.

We asked the DOJ why it only included one guilty charge when Barragan was indited with several. A spokesperson told us they had no comment at this time while litigation is pending.

Baragan's attorney told us she and her client will, "not be offering any comments about the ongoing case." 

Barragan's is expected to have to pay victims back. He's out on bond but could spend up to 20 years in federal prison for mail fraud.  We'll find out this summer during his scheduled sentencing. 

Have an issue you’d like for us to investigate? Email or call our tip line 520-955-4444. 

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Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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