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A Texas church claims that a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., travel agency sinned when it wrongly kept nearly $14,000. McKinney Memorial Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas, says Travel Etc. of Las Olas Inc. kept $13,740 that the church paid for a youth mission’s travel expenses. The church accidentally sent the amount to the wrong travel agent, according to a suit filed in Broward Circuit Court. Mortimer Epstein, director of Travel Etc. of Las Olas, said any money he received would have been for services rendered. He said later that he had looked into the matter and will return the money. The agency has not yet responded in court to the Nov. 16 suit. The church’s dispute with Travel Etc. of Las Olas started in early June, when the church made travel arrangements for a youth mission through Travel Etc. in Fort Worth, according to Brian Mills, the church’s business manager. The church had previously used the Fort Lauderdale travel agent, Mills said, and office workers inadvertently sent the check to Florida. He said Travel Etc. of Las Olas cashed the check. Mills said he called the Fort Lauderdale travel agent and asked that the check be returned. “We talked with them several times,” Mills said. “We talked with the owner and he said, ‘Well, I’ll get to it,’ and, basically, ‘Stay off my case.’ “ It’s not the only complaint that Travel Etc. of Las Olas faces. Cunard Line filed a lawsuit last year, claiming that Travel Etc. bounced checks totaling about $7,450 in 1999. Epstein said the case was settled. In addition, Florida corporate records show that Travel Etc. of Las Olas failed to file an annual report and was administratively dissolved in September. And the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says the company failed to comply with registration regulations. Cassi Beebe, a consumer services investigator, said this week that the company has been operating unregistered for years and may be shut down. Epstein says it’s all a misunderstanding. “We’ve been in business since 1975, we’re fully licensed,” he said, explaining that the agency’s registration is grandfathered. “We’re going to prove it.” E. Scott Golden, McKinney Memorial Church’s attorney in Fort Lauderdale, said he has not heard a thing from Travel Etc. regarding the suit. “They’ve simply not responded,” Golden said. “They had early discussions with McKinney and then they stopped. We have not had any further discussions since the suit was filed.” Mills said the church only resorted to a lawsuit after waiting several months to get its money back. “All we wanted was our check back,” Mills said. “We don’t normally sue people; it doesn’t create the right kind of image.”

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