The totality of a financial scheme is revealing itself to criminal defense attorneys and law enforcement officers in South Carolina. The question now is whether or not a disgraced travel agent will face additional charges for her actions.
On Tuesday (December 5, 2023), the Connell Law Firm announced that attorneys Benjamin Connell and Derek Shoemake were representing approximately twenty victims of an intricate yet thwarted embezzlement scheme in Lugoff — made possible by the now-terminated franchisee of a national travel business.
According to investigators, the house of stolen credit cards came tumbling down in early-October — when the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) was requested by the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) to facilitate the criminal investigation of Melissa Collins Hanna.
Unfortunately for investigators, one interview with the socialite sent her fleeing into a local health facility — where a distant family member believes she remained for upwards of a week to evade apprehension. That is, until her surprise vacation was over.
On October 10, 2023, Hanna exited the health facility and surrendered herself to ready and waiting investigators. The 43-year-old was served three arrest warrants in connection with three separate fraud incidents before “walking free” on a personal recognizance (PR) bond issued within the same day.
The condition of her release? She cannot leave the Palmetto State while her criminal charges are pending. Which means she had to forgo a personal Carnival Cruise Line vacation purchased on a separate client’s credit card. Or at least that’s what a bank statement alleges.
“She was floating money all over the place,” one of Hanna’s victims told FITSNews on condition of anonymity. “She used our credit card to the tune of $8,500. That’s after we found another $4,000 from two months prior that my husband had not caught.”
According to some of Hanna’s victims who have since taken to Facebook, the careered travel agent was operating a Ponzi scheme — of sorts — under the guise of her Dream Vacations franchise, a subsidiary of the Internationally recognized World Travel Holdings company.
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“She’ll take peoples money for their cruise (we’ll call them Person One) and charge it to her personal Apple Square,” said one status update. “She’ll spend Person One’s money, and then charge a different clients credit card (we’ll call them Person Two) for Person One’s cruise. When Person Two realizes their card was randomly charged … thus begins the cycle of her giving you the run around.”
As purported in post after post after post, Hanna allegedly deprived her clients of thousands upon thousands of dollars and — on at least one occasion — “robbed” a newly grieving widow of $13,000 within two weeks of her husband passing away.
Fear not, though, as the stolen money was reportedly spent on another clients vacation.
“How did this happen? Melissa Hanna. That’s how,” continued one Facebook user. “Betrayal across the board. And this is only ONE example of what Melissa Hanna has done… We need to let the sheriff’s office know about every incident and we need to see it through. Her actions have only gotten more elaborate and bold over the years.”
Sources close to the investigation say additional police reports have been filed and that additional charges against Hanna are not only anticipated, but “highly likely.” Which brings us back to the Connell Law Firm. Its attorneys told FITSNews they are investigating the disgraced travel agent — as well as her former agency — to determine the best legal recourse.
“Our clients used a local travel agent backed by a major travel company and thought that would keep them safe from fraud,” said Shoemake — a familiar name to this outlet. “They became victims nonetheless, and our clients’ goal now is to warn the public and keep others from falling prey to these practices.”
If you or anyone you know is a victim of Hanna, Dream Vacations, World Travel Holdings — or a similar scheme — the Connell Law Firm is imploring you to call at 1-866-SC-ATTYS.
Count on FITSNews to monitor the alleged financial crimes of Hanna — as well as any additional charges in light of newfound allegations and ongoing investigations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Andrew Fancher is a Lone Star Emmy award-winning journalist from Dallas, Texas. Cut from a bloodline of outlaws and lawmen alike, he was the first of his family to graduate college which was accomplished with honors. Got a story idea or news tip for Andy? Email him directly and connect with him socially across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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