The promise of a trip to paradise turned into a nightmare for more than a dozen Kansans.
That promise was made by a local Salina (scuba) dive shop owner, who took their money for trips that never happened.
“It’s very stressful. I'm out $6,000. It's a lot of money for me,” says Ron Sare who booked two trips with H2O Aquatic Adventures in Salina.
“That irritates me. It's my retirement money. That's a vacation I can't take with my wife.”
Sare had trips planned to Florida and Mexico.
He’s not alone. Steve Howard was the first to call FactFinder 12 Investigators after booking a trip to Mexico that never happened. Howard is out more than $1,900. He just hopes to get the money back from the Salina shop.
“We have hope but I doubt we’ll see it,” says Howard.
FactFinder 12 compiled a list of about a dozen names, including avid divers Dora and Robin Bostater. They tell us the owner of H2O Aquatic Adventures, Mark Ash, owes them about $10,000 for trips and equipment.
No one we talked to has received even a partial refund from the business. Howard says he’s asked, but was told to back off and quit pushing it.
Those owed money say Ash told them their money was held by a third-party travel agent, but wouldn’t give them an agent's name.
“Yes, he told me the same thing when I asked for contact information and he said, 'nope,'" says Sare.
FactFinder 12 called Ash, and at first, he told us the same story about a third-party agent, but wouldn’t reveal a name.
Ash eventually told us he was lying about the third party, and it was him who had the money. He then agreed to sit down for an interview.
“It was strictly me. I was trying to keep the bills paid and moving forward,” says Ash after admitting there was never a third party that held the money.
Ash says spring flooding slowed business and he was struggling to keep the doors open on his Salina dive shop.
He says the money people like Steve, Ron, Dora and Robin paid didn't go where it was supposed to.
“At that point, we didn't have the income coming in but we still had the overhead and we got upside down is what it came down to," Ash says.
He said he intends to pay them back, but admits it may take some time. He claims to have paid about five customers back, but admits to owning more than a dozen others.
Ash has closed his storefront, but still provides dive lessons. He says he’s not booking trips anymore and assures customers they will get what they pay for.
Those owed money just don’t want it to happen to someone else.
“Nobody deserves to be treated this way,” says Sare.