Travel operator pleads not guilty on 21 charges

Posted: Thursday, June 03, 2004

ANCHORAGE (AP) The owner of a bankrupt Anchorage tour company has been arraigned on federal criminal charges of wire and credit card fraud.

Jennifer Christensen, 32, pleaded not guilty to a 21-count indictment. She appeared in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Tuesday with her lawyer and her pastor.

Christensen advertised her business, Ask Alaska Travel & Tours, as the largest custom-tour planner in the state. She closed it last summer under a mountain of debt. Scores of visitors and tour companies later complained to the state attorney general that she misused credit cards and didn't provide services that had been paid for in advance.

Last month, Christensen settled two state civil lawsuits for consumer fraud and unfair and deceptive trade practices. Christensen paid $48,000 in restitution to travelers and tourist-related businesses. She also recently settled her company's bankruptcy case.

The federal indictment stems from a criminal investigation by the Anchorage police and the FBI. A grand jury indicted her in April, charging that Christensen devised a scheme to defraud customers and a credit card company through false pretenses. Her scheme resulted in a loss of about $250,000 to victims, the indictment said.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge James Singleton with a tentative trial date set for July 12.

''I don't anticipate it going to trial,'' said her attorney, John Murtagh, in an interview following the arraignment. He and assistant U.S. attorney Crandon Randell have been discussing a settlement in the case for several months.

Such a a settlement might mean Christensen would serve 30 to 37 months in federal prison, according to sentencing guidelines, far less than the maximum 105-year sentence all 21 counts carry, both Murtagh and Randell said.

Randell did not seek bail or Christensen's incarceration pending the start of her trial. However, she must make all of her court appearances, not intimidate or retaliate against potential witnesses and not to use machines that process credit cards.

Christensen is working as a pizza delivery woman.

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