Feds: Former Washington travel agent stole nearly 3.7M airline miles from high-end clients

A former agent at a Washington travel company was charged Friday with stealing nearly 3.7 million airline miles from high-end clients, then using them to buy plane tickets for herself and her family.

Karen Yeakel was fired from her job at Stellar Travel in Bellevue in June 2011, after discrepancies in the frequent-flier account of one of her top clients turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg, said company partner Susan Bluhm.

According to a wire fraud charge unsealed Friday in federal court, Yeakel used the airline miles to buy 135 flights for herself and her family, worth more than $109,000 — but that's not all. She's also accused of using the credit cards of some clients to buy $180,000 worth of plane tickets, then providing those tickets to other customers at steep discounts.

"Yeakel frequently denied her clients access to their airline miles or misled clients into believing that the airlines had restricted the use of airline miles when, in fact, no airline miles were available as defendant Yeakel had misappropriated them for her own benefit," prosecutors wrote.

Yeakel's lawyer did not immediately return an email seeking comment. The charge was filed in a federal court document called an "information," which typically means a plea deal is in the works.

Yeakel's clients were not named in the court papers, but were described as "high net worth individuals." Bluhm declined to identify them.

"A handful of her top clients were affected, and those clients are still our clients," Bluhm said. "They realized that this was the action of a rogue employee. This was almost two years ago, and we dealt with it."

The company said in a statement that it was sorry for those cheated in the scheme.

"Upon discovering these personal activities Karen executed on her own, we fully cooperated with law enforcement officials to ensure justice is served," the statement said.

Yeakel began working at Stellar in 2003. The scheme to provide airline tickets purchased by some clients to other clients began by early 2005, the charging papers said, and the scheme to convert frequent flier miles to her own use began in 2008.


Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle