Mayfield Village — The problems with Discovery Tours are mounting.
Now we've learned the company has left thousands of students in the lurch -- all who booked trips with company totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I have been following the trail, that seems to be leading to a company in trouble. From Hudson, to Mayfield Village, Richmond Heights, even Washington D.C. We've been trying to get answers from Discovery Tours on what went wrong, because this isn't about a dispute with the hotel as they are claiming.
And we wanted to know what's going to happen with all the upcoming trips.
First to Hudson, where we showed up at the very large house of Joe Cipolletti of Discovery Tours.
That's the company that canceled a school trip to Washington with the Mentor schools.
When I confronted him Wednesday at his offices, I asked him if the parents are getting their money back.
He told me, “We are doing all that we can."
But a day later, he was MIA. No one answered the door at his home.
Then we went to his office in Mayfield Village, where the doors were locked. Joe also didn't answer his cell.
There was also no answer in Richmond Heights at the home of Alfred Cipolletti, who is listed as an owner of Discovery with the Ohio Secretary of State.
He’s also the owner of a new company called New Destination, which formed in late December.
And in Mentor, the School Superintendent Bill Porter told us, "Until yesterday we had no indication there was any problem."
In fact, the Mentor Schools have used Discovery in the past with no problems.
And that's what we heard from schools across Ohio, some who've traveled with the company for years.
Carylann Assante, who runs the Student and Youth Travel Association, or SYTA, in the Washington D.C. area told us, “If there's a greater financial situation of bankruptcy or some other charges against them, that would be caused to revoke their membership.”
Discovery has been a member with the advocacy group since 2008. And SYTA has been getting calls from across the state, from schools who had upcoming trips that are up in the air as far south as Madeira and Columbus
"From my understanding, it's over 30 groups of students which could be over two thousand students," she told us.
But the group is now working with the schools and other groups to see what they can do for them.
"We've received a number of calls from tourism communities in DC, Chicago, and Cleveland who, at minimum, want to provide a good experience for students," she said.
In fact, we just learned that Nowak Tours of Valley City, and the bus company Lakefront Lines have stepped in to help the students from North Royalton's Middle School. Now they'll be able to go on trip they were planning to D.C. next week. A trip that would otherwise have been canceled.
SYTA told us problems like the one with Discovery are uncommon in the student travel industry.
But the repercussions for tour operators that go rogue are big. Several years ago, a high school band from Missouri lost $300,000 after their trip to Hawaii was suddenly canceled. The tour operator got locked up in federal prison for five years, and was ordered to pay nearly $800,000 dollars in restitution.