HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime to Ireland. Castles, music, the green landscape and more were all part of the package. Unfortunately, now it looks like the Henrico-based tour company that promoted the trip went under and customers are left asking, “Where’s my money?”
Half a dozen customers like Jo and Terry Dougherty contacted 8News concerned because their overseas trip to the Emerald Isle was nothing but a bunch of blarney.
“We got all excited about it,” Joe Dougherty said.
The Chesterfield couple poured over books and videos in preparation for what was supposed to be a dream trip to Ireland to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
“That was supposed to be the lodge that we are going to be staying at,” Terry said, pointing to a binder filled with their trip plans.
Wild West Irish Tours based in Henrico promised a bed and breakfast, transportation, meals and a tour guide on a seven-day Irish journey through the best of the wild west.
“We had met Wild West Irish tours at the Celtic festival,” Terry said.
The owner, Michael Waugh, guaranteed the couple a unique and personal Highland’s Irish experience as the Doughertys traced their ancestry.
“He had a big booth at the Celtic festival and he had handouts and information and cards,” Terry said.
The Doughertys booked their trip to Ireland for September 2020. However, COVID canceled that plan.
“He gave us the opportunity to get a refund or just book it for the next year,” Terry said.
So, the couple rebooked their $5,000 trip for this September. This spring the Doughertys started reaching back out to Michael so they could rebook their flights and prepare for the fall trip.
“I got back in touch with Michael, sent him a couple of emails and asked what was going on,” Terry explained.
But suddenly, Waugh had disappeared.
“I tried calling him in the phone numbers, several emails to several different addresses and never got a response back,” Joe said.
Today, the Wild West Irish Tours website is down. The company has gone quiet on social media, its phone number is no longer in service and the address listed for the business just sold.
“I assume our money is lost,” Terry told 8News.
Janet Woulfe and Maureen Dahnke in Missouri are wondering if the Wild West Irish Tour they booked was nothing but an Irish Myth.
“We truly feel like we’ve been taken advantage of,” Woulfe said.
The two women are part of a group of four friends planning to travel together.
“We all love Ireland, we had been before,” Woulfe said.
The group says they were told they could reschedule their 2020 trips, which Woulfe said were about $3,500 a piece.
They were supposed to take off in June.
“We tried March, April, May and we could not make contact,” Woulfe said.
Dahnke had no luck either.
“I don’t know how many voicemail messages I’ve left,” she said.
June has come and gone and no trip and there’s been or word from Waugh.
“We’re out all of our money and we still don’t have a trip,” Woulfe said.
8News tracked Waugh down and spoke with the owner several times. He declined our requests for an interview but over the phone and told us Wild West Irish Tours was a casualty of the pandemic. Yet, since the trips never took off, customers are confused by this. They say they paid for a service they never got.
“I can’t understand where the money went. Was it just a scam?” Terry asked.
8News asked Waugh about the money. He said everything hit him at once.
“I am just not well,” he said.
Waugh told 8News it was the pandemic combined with a cancer diagnosis and a messy divorce.
“Everything was all in one pot,” he said. “The judge said that was community property.”
When asked if Waugh would be able to pay the customers back he said he was “going to make every effort.”
“I have lost everything and I don’t have my health,” he said. “I don’t have a house, I’m homeless.”
Customers still don’t understand why he didn’t reach out to them.
“He could have gotten in touch with us,” Joe said. “But no response of any kind, I think is very irresponsible.”
Woulfe echoes the sentiment.
“It just isn’t right,” she said.
Terry has taken action and said he has filed a civil suit in Henrico County. The Dahnkes filed a complaint with the Missouri and Virginia Attorney General’s Offices.
“I would love to go back to Ireland before I am too old to enjoy it,” she said.
Joe said this experience has tainted her dreams of traveling to Ireland.
“Now I just feel so disappointed and it’s kind of taken the fun out of trying to go to Ireland,” she said.
Waugh insists he wasn’t trying to scam anyone.
“I am a real honest man,” he said.
So what can you do to protect yourself from a situation like this? Do your research.
8News checked with the State Corporation Commission and they had no record of Waugh on file. The business was registered to his wife and hasn’t been active since 2015. That’s a red flag.
You can check that by going to the SCC website, click on existing businesses under the business tab and then go to the “clerk’s information system” to look up the business. Not all businesses are incorporated but they do need a business license to operate. Check with the locality the business is located in for a license.
Pay with a credit card for travel.
The Missouri group was able to dispute the charge for their airline tickets. However, everyone we spoke to was told the charge for their tour was too old to argue. They had booked their 2020 trips back in 2019.
The Virginia Attorney General’s Office has four open complaints about the tour company and they encourage anyone else having an issue to reach out. You can do that online here.