Hawaii tourism official denied accepting bribes

The travel agent community and vacation customers have seen their world turned into nightmares by a notorious travel agent, Penny Kane, who is currently incarcerated in Oakland County, Michigan. Kane, who has been praised and awarded designations of honor by Stacey Martin Alford, the Director of Travel Industry Sales at Oahu Visitors Bureau, has pleaded nolo contendere (guilty, as interpreted by the courts) to a long list of felonies involving ripping customers off. The number of victims surfacing has become so overwhelming that sentencing for Kane has been postponed to at least August 14.

Kane is accused of promoting vacations to Hawaii at prices that don’t exist, taking deposits for aloha vacations that never happened, and advertising prices for supposed Oahu Island packages that other travel agents allege can’t possibly be legitimate. Kane is accused of systematic fraud, theft, and cheating on taxes, according to her most recent prosecution, 2013-246203-FH in Oakland County Circuit Court.

Her run-ins with the law go back to 2001, when one of her victims filed a personal protection order against her and accused her of being a stalker. For years, area agents who know her allege she is a bully, liar and manipulator. Once at a Tahiti Tiare educational session, fellow agents witnessed the trainer threaten to throw her out of the room if she didn’t stop her rude and disruptive conduct. In the meanwhile, Stacey Martin Alford from the HVCB awarded Kane with accolades and the title “Oahu Master Specialist.”

John Monahan, president and CEO of HVCB said:” The Oahu Master Specialist designation was given to Ms. Kane based on adherence to pre-set qualifications established by the Oahu Visitor’s Bureau. There are around 600 travel agents that have this designation. Ms. Kane was not extended the Oahu Destination Specialist designation for 2013. Ms. Alford further states that she never singled out Ms. Kane for any higher level of recognition beyond Oahu Master Specialist.”

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) has had its share of scandals, too. In 2003, the Hawaii Tourism Authority was blasted for inadequate supervision of its contractor, the HVCB, which spent state funds for self-serving purposes.

Agents allege that Stacey Martin Alford has been the bane of their existence; they said she unfairly directed Hawaii customer prospects to specified agents, such as Penny Kane, to the exclusion of the travel agent community at large.

Agents allege that Alford unethically received gifts from those specified agents, like free babysitting while she took off with a new husband. Agents also allege Alford spent state funds to promote her newest husband’s business, a bicycle touring company in Oahu, to the exclusion of other legitimate Oahu tour companies.

ETN shared this article with the HVCB CEO Mr. Monahan. He continued to say: “Ms. Alford denies the “agent” allegations contained in this article that she acted improperly.”

Customers ask why their vacation lead information submitted to the HCVB would be given to someone like Penny Kane, whose marketing methods have been questioned for years.

HVCB CEO John Monahan told eTN: “HVCB does not provide customer contact information direct to travel agents. Agents who pass tests based on their knowledge of Hawaii qualify to have their contact information placed on gohawaii.com as a Travel Specialist. Based on this information Ms. Kane has been removed from the Travel Specialist listing.”

Victims accuse Kane of peddling non-existing vacation packages to Hawaii; reportedly the larcenies total $300,000 or more. Larceny is a pretty word for thievery. Agents accuse Kane of holding meetings at restaurants where the owners gave Kane kickbacks for holding the meetings there; they say Kane also made them pay cash for the privilege of being there, and say Kane never gave a receipt for the money, nor recorded the income in a ledger at any of the meetings – she simply stuck the money in her purse. At each meeting, Kane would have a travel supplier representative show up and share the latest news and incentives; if Kane wanted to black-ball an agent, she would exclude the agent from the meetings, which she called MTAN (Michigan Travel Agent Network).

Ostracized agents would then have no opportunity to meet with the reps, because reps don’t go to home-based agencies, which is becoming the dominant trend. Kane refused applications to MTAN from agents she deemed unworthy. In the meanwhile, agents who paid her cash were wondering where all the money was going. One of the many charges against Kane is “Violation of Tax Law”; the court found her guilty, as charged.

A travel agent near Waterford, Michigan is one of Kane’s victims; she said Kane came to her and said MLT / Delta Vacations kicked her to the curb after failing to pay a significant bill she owed. Months later, the Waterford agent discovered Kane was scamming customers out of money and was secretly using the Waterford agency’s IATA number to perpetuate the massive fraud. “Nobody knows how many agencies have had their IATA credentials deceitfully used by Kane” the agent said.

One agent said “Penny Kane is the face of immorality that causes magazines like Woman’s Day to write demeaning articles about us travel agents.” Another agent described Kane as “pure evil – for years she has gone around at travel agent meetings and spread lies about me.”

In the meantime, sales reps who were speakers at Kane’s restaurant meetings report receiving letters from Kane, in jail, asking for pre-sentencing testimonials asserting she is a model citizen, a pillar of the community. To the contrary, the court has found her guilty, as charged, in every felony count. Kane still has her fans, though, like the married men from a cigar club who vacationed in Cuba during the Havana Cigar Festival, and enjoyed the festivities where $5 will buy you a hooker for the night, and rum is dirt cheap, all under the carefully crafted air of a “humanitarian mission.”

But for those whose lives have been turned into a nightmare, whether as customer or travel agent, your victim statement is needed in order to determine a just sentence for the infamous Penny Kane. Victims are asked to contact Janelle Hall at telephone (248) 858-1470, email HallJ2@michigan.gov, fax 248 452 9907, or Prosecutor Rob Novy at (248) 858 5242.