|By Tomoya Shimura, Daily Press,
Victorville, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 20, 2011--VICTORVILLE
--A local hotel owner convicted of stealing more than $800,000 from Orbitz.com was sentenced Tuesday to 270 weekend days in jail.
Victorville Superior Court Judge Lynn Poncin also ordered Ashka Patel, 28, to pay restitution to the online travel company.
The prosecution alleged Orbitz' losses totaled about $863,000, whereas Patel claimed the amount was closer to $500,000. She agreed to give up $680,000 authorities seized from her three bank accounts after her arrest. Patel's restitution hearing is set for July 15.
The prosecution alleged Patel went to Orbitz.com and booked a room for several nights. After Orbitz charged the credit card and relayed the funds to one of two local hotels Patel was involved with, she would -- acting as the customer -- cancel the transaction.
Orbitz would then reimburse her credit card used to make the transaction, with the expectation the hotel would pay the money back to the Chicago-based travel agency, authorities said.
Instead, Patel withheld Orbitz' money from December 2008 until November 2009, when Orbitz officials reported the suspected fraud to local authorities, Deputy District Attorney Jason Wilkinson said.
The majority of the fraud was committed through the Travel Inn Motel on Seventh Street, but prosecutors said a small amount was processed through the Days Inn on Park Avenue.
Patel accepted the prosecution's offer and pleaded no contest in March to two felony counts of grand theft. Poncin said Tuesday she was initially reluctant to accept the plea.
Poncin put Patel on an extended five-year probation. The judge ordered her to be supervised when she works at her hotels to prevent further offenses. According to the plea agreement, Patel will have to do 100 hours of community service at the San Bernardino County Sheriff 's Victorville station.
"Due to Ms. Patel's background and nature of the crime, we wanted to make sure she was thoroughly supervised while being able to pay back restitution," Wilkinson said. "I am satisfied that the victims of this case will receive their restitution fairly quickly. We will be asking for the full amount Orbitz has asked for."
In t h e co u r t ro o m Tuesday, Patel tried to cover her face with a jacket to avoid Daily Press cameras but a court deputy reprimanded her. She told the deputy her life has been ruined because of the newspaper's coverage of the case.
Prior to her arrest, Patel was reportedly preparing to run for a Victorville City Council seat in the November 2010 election.
Tomoya Shimura may be reached at (760) 955-5368 or tshimura@
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Copyright (c) 2011, Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.
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