MAYFIELD VILLAGE, Ohio (WJW) – A former tour operator pleaded guilty to defrauding dozens of schools and thousands of parents after pre-paid school trips were abruptly canceled. 

Prosecutors say he took the payments and spent the money for his own personal use.

Joseph Cipolletti, 47, of Hudson, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to an 18-count indictment, charging him with wire fraud, money laundering, bank fraud and making false statements under oath.

Cipolletti was vice president of Discovery Tours in Mayfield Village, a company that organized educational trips for students to places like Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago. 

According to court documents, he also managed the company’s finances.

The first indication of trouble was May of 2018, when a trip to Washington, D.C. for more than 500 8th graders in Mentor was cancelled the day before. Each student had paid $455 each, but the school discovered they were unable to receive the final confirmation for hotel rooms.

Court documents show that from June 2014 to May 2018, Cipolletti diverted payments meant for the trips to buying personal items like home renovations and vehicles.

In May 2018, Discovery Tours ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy. That meant school trips were canceled for dozens of schools across Ohio, including Cuyahoga, Summit and Geauga counties. More than 5,000 families lost the money they had already paid for trips.

At the time, FOX 8 spoke to a parent from Painesville about a canceled 7th grade trip to Chicago.

“It was frustrating. I mean, we paid a lot of money, so I believe it was $520 per child, so over a thousand bucks for us to send these guys,” he said.

Federal prosecutors claimed Cipolletti had embezzled more than $600,000 from the company and made fake entries in the financial ledger. But they say he lied about it under oath. 

“We’re devastated, we’re people, broken as a family. They didn’t deserve this, but we’re cooperating 100% to make sure everything gets told correctly,” Cipolletti told reporters outside of court in June 2018.

Prosecutors say the total amount of the loss will be determined at sentencing, which is scheduled for Nov. 29.

This afternoon, FOX 8 spoke to Cipolletti’s attorney, but he said neither he nor his client would have any comment.