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Polk County travel agent charged with stealing over $1.6 million from 60 victims

Polk County

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) – A Winter Haven travel agent allegedly stole more than $1.6 million from dozens of people and financial institutions to fund her lavish lifestyle.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said Jaleeann Johnson, 42, spent the money on shopping, dining, spa and nail services, bars, vehicle expenses, cash withdrawals and fuel.

“She had very, very impressive taste. Of course it’s easy to when you’re not paying the bill,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

Deputies said Johnston worked as an office manager and travel agent for Cruise Link Travel in Winter Haven.

The agency began investigating Johnson in November after a customer reported they had put down a $339 deposit down on cruise, but it was never booked and the customer never received a refund. Another person who was supposed to go on the cruise with that victim said they found a suspicious $13,000 charge on their credit card statement.

From there, investigators learned of more victims. They said Johnson had been using the operational account for Cruise Link Travel for day-to-day business and personal expenditures. She would transfer money through the accounts of Florida Best Peaches and Cruise Link Travel, which were both owned by a close relative.

The business is now shut down, authorities say.

When 8 On Your Side tried to call the number posted on the business sign, it was disconnected.

“She has ruined the business. She has absolutely totally ruined the business,” said Sheriff Judd.

The relative suffered a bulk of the losses, approximately $1.3 million, the agency said.

“The biggest victim by far was Johnston’s employer, who was also a close relative, her own flesh and blood,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. “She more or less destroyed the woman’s business, and brought about substantial monetary losses and grief to her customers. Johnston’s scheme was unsustainable, and her greed just kept burying her deeper.”

Investigators say Johnston also used other people’s bank information to support her personal lifestyle and to cover costs of other cruises. She would cover her tracks “by shifting the blame to other businesses involved in the transactions,” authorities said. Johnston would also move money through accounts with Citizens Bank and Trust, CenterState Bank, and TD Bank, according to the affidavit.

Dozens of victims and three institutions, Barclay Bank, Chase Card Services, and IAA Credit Union sustained losses from the fraudulent activity.

According to the arrest report, most of the victims incurred losses through fraudulent use of their credit card information, while most of the financial institutions were able to complete chargebacks, which resulted in minimal or no financial losses.

More than 60 victims were affected. Investigators say they found a total of 66 forged in addition to phone and electronic transfers documenting the theft, the affidavit stated.

Johnston is also facing at least two civil lawsuits.

A lawyer representing her in one of those cases did not respond to News Channel 8’s request for comment.

Johnson was arrested and charged with grand theft $100 or more, aggravated white-collar crime of 20 or more persons, criminal use of a personal ID of 30 or more persons and obtaining property by fraud of $50,000 or more.

Authorities say Johnson is also the subject of similar investigations in Lakeland and Bartow.


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