Travel agent receives suspended sentence, must pay back Smithfield families

Augustine Acheampong

SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) — A travel agent accused of booking a bogus trip with several Smithfield High School students received a 50-year suspended sentence Wednesday — provided he pays back the money he owes.

Augustine Acheampong owed $31,590 from the planned European trip, which was canceled two days before it was scheduled. Acheampong was later indicted with several counts of embezzlement.

“I woke up that morning and the trip was canceled and I thought it had to be a mistake, because why would the trip be canceled?” Victim Claire Piatak questioned.

As a part of a plea agreement for 10 counts Acheampong was faced with — one for each of the families of students involved — was that he would pay back the money.

Acheampong told investigators that he usually buys the plane tickets at the airport, but prosecutors say there was no money in his account. They spent months looking at transactions trying to figure out where the money went.

“For me, this a predator preying on children in schools and stealing money from them on purpose and knowing months in advance there was no way we can go,” said Kristie Lanford.

The families have gotten back $22,150 of that total up to this point.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney said the goal was to make the families whole again and suggested Wednesday that Acheampong’s sentencing be suspended. He avoided the 50 years in prison the judge handed down as long as the remaining money — totaling $9,440 — is paid back by Dec. 15.

“I am disappointed that he didn’t get any more time, but definitely getting our money back is very helpful,” added victim Hailey Lanford.

Acheampong stated in court Wednesday, “I just want to apologize to the victims and the court. I stand a humbled man and beg for mercy. I apologize from the bottom of my heart.”

It was first time he every said sorry to the Smithfield families.

Piatak says she feels Acheampong didn’t show any remorse.

“We thought he deserved to be punished for his actions,” Piatak said.

“It took him two years to say any sort of apology which is way to long and I do think it is too little too late for him,” Manson added.

Acheampong entered an Alford plea in the case, meaning he acknowledges there is enough evidence to convict him, but does not admit guilt.

The travel agent was also faced with similar charges in Warren County, Virginia, but the charges were dropped after it was shown Acheampong had reimbursed the students.

Acheampong was sentenced to 200 hours of community service in Wednesday’s hearing.