NEW YORK — The head of a Nevada company that manages business travel for major corporations admitted Wednesday she booked bogus trips to net herself $17 million — money prosecutors say she spent on such far-flung expenses as a Florida apartment and a stake in a California sandwich shop chain.
Tri-Pen Management Corp. President Victoria Wofford pleaded guilty in a Manhattan court to grand larceny. She briefly answered a judge’s questions as she acknowledged she got American Express to pay her for sham travel she booked for a client for more than three years.
Wofford “committed multimillion-dollar fraud in a systematic fashion,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.
In Wofford’s capacity as a corporate travel agent, she charged the phony trips to dormant American Express accounts in the client’s name, then pocketed the money when the credit card giant paid her as the travel vendor, prosecutors said. To keep the scheme going, Wofford posed as one of her client’s employees to authorize and answer questions about the expenses, they said.
Most of the proceeds went to developing some travel software, but Wofford also gave her husband $2.4 million to invest in a California-based submarine-sandwich chain and bought a $475,000 apartment in St. Petersburg, Fla., prosecutors said. There was no indication her husband knew about the travel scam, they said.
Wofford ultimately ran up $35 million in bills and various fees, a fraud that went unexplored for years because it was a fraction of the client’s total travel bills, prosecutors said.
The American Express Co. is looking into the matter, spokeswoman Molly Faust said.
Prosecutors and American Express declined to identify which Tri-Pen client’s accounts Wofford used. Wofford’s lawyer declined to comment outside court.
Tri-Pen, based in Carson City, Nev., wasn’t named in the criminal case, and Executive Vice President E.J. Martinez said Wednesday she knew nothing about it. She and Wofford co-founded the company.
Tri-Pen books travel, negotiates discounts and provides other travel-related services. As of 2004, it made $2.65 million a year in revenue from clients that spent as much as $30 million a year on travel, according to the Westchester County Business Journal.
The company positions itself as a money-saver, saying on its website that the average client shaves 15 to 30 percent from its travel spending.
Wofford, 53, of Manhattan, faces at least a year and as many as 25 years in prison. She’s being allowed to work on repaying the money before her sentence is decided.