Dallas sports tour operator jailed on hot check charge

08/13/2014 6:07 PM

08/13/2014 6:22 PM

Ronni Sokol, the owner of the sports travel firm Maximum Sports Connection, was arrested in Dallas and accused of writing $20,000 in hot checks to an East Texas businessman who says Sokol “scammed” his family out of $190,000.

Sokol, 49, spent nine hours in a Dallas jail on an arrest warrant from the district attorney of Panola County on Tuesday before being released on $10,000 bail, she told the Star-Telegram. She called the arrest the result of a business deal gone sour.

The Dallas businesswoman has been the subject of many complaints from angry customers around the country in recent years, who paid her firm tens of thousands of dollars for Dallas Cowboys game packages but said they ended up without plane reservations, rooms or game tickets. In July 2011, the National Football League franchise stripped Maximum Sports of rights to call itself the team’s official travel partner. Area hotels also complained of unpaid bills.

In an April plea bargain, Sokol was sentenced to five years of deferred community service after admitting the theft of $1,500.

Last week, she settled a civil case brought by the Texas attorney general’s office, agreeing to return $53,229.39 to aggrieved customers and to pay a $15,000 fine and $45,000 in attorney fees to the state. Sokol would face $110,000 more in penalties if she violates the 191st District Court judgment, including deceptive trade practices, within 10 years.

Among victims was Eduardo Lopez of Eagle Pass, who said he paid Sokol’s firm more than $11,000 to bring a busload of 57 Cowboys fans from South Texas and northern Mexico for a 2012 game against the Steelers. After Sokol returned $1,548 on a credit card, Lopez said he was still owed more than $10,000.

In the latest legal skirmish, Sokol admits borrowing $190,000 from the Creel family of Longview, who had been customers of Maximum Sports Connection.

Michael Creel, 37, CEO of the family’s fence company, was seeking to diversify into the sports travel business. After Sokol sent him a Facebook message requesting an urgent loan, Creel says, she told him that she was quitting the business and that he could take over the venture’s assets.

“I did it out of panic mode instead of sitting down and discussing it,” Sokol said about taking the money from the Creels during a cash-flow crunch toward the end of last season. “When we sat down and talked, it was like oil and water. It wasn’t going to work.”

After lending the money, Creel alleged, Sokol wrote $20,000 in checks that later bounced. Sokol asserted that Creel had agreed to hold off on cashing the checks until she resolved a dispute with a credit card company that owed her more than enough to cover the checks.

“If I didn’t give them all my assets, website and my 888 umber, they threatened that they would cash the four checks [totaling $20,000] and have me arrested,” Sokol said.

Creel, who is suing Sokol in state District Court in Dallas, alleging nonpayment of the $190,000 debt, said he reported the hot check allegation to the Panola County district attorney’s office because he believes that Sokol should face jail time. He banks in Panola County in East Texas.

“I hope she burns in jail,” Creel said by telephone. “She’s a bad person, a very bad person. She scammed my family out of $200,000.”

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