Feds indict Hudson man associated with school tour cancellations

Cipolletti accused of embezzling $600,000 from Discovery Tours

APRIL HELMS Reporter

Wire fraud, money laundering, bank fraud and making a false statement under oath were among the 18 indictments recently returned against a Hudson man by a federal grand jury in Cleveland.

Joseph A. Cipolletti, 45, was senior vice president of operations at Discovery Tours, a Northeast Ohio company that organized trips, including school field trips, filed for Chapter 7 federal bankruptcy protection in 2018. The company, which started in 1972, had closed May 7. The company’s abrupt closure led to the sudden cancellation of numerous school trips throughout Ohio and other states, including in Hudson and Twinsburg.

According to court documents, from June 2014 to May 2018, Cipolletti allegedly diverted payments intended for Discovery Tours trips for personal use such as home renovations and personal vehicles. Cipolletti allegedly embezzled $609,942 from Discovery Tours during those four years.

“This defendant is accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from hardworking Northeast Ohio families, intended to provide their children and students with meaningful educational experiences, for his own personal use – such as buying vehicles and backyard renovations,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. “As a result of the defendant’s alleged actions, his place of business was forced into bankruptcy, and our community’s schoolchildren were deprived of invaluable experiences and memories.”

Sheryl Sheatzley, Hudson City Schools’ manager of communications and alumni outreach, said that “it's still really early in the judicial process.”

“We probably won't know about any refunds for a long time, and it may never happen,” Sheatzley said. “There is a long line of claimants.”

Hudson School Board President Dave Zuro declined to comment.

Lester S. Potash, an attorney with offices in Beachwood and the legal representative for Discovery Tours, could not be reached for comment.

According to court records, Cipolletti allegedly made multiple false entries in the Discovery Tours general ledger claiming embezzled funds were trip-related expenses, forging an email to a hotel vendor claiming that the business suffered a loss of $236,022 due to a hacked account, paying vendors for previous student trips with deposits from future trips, and obtaining high-out interest loans to conceal his actions.

That indictment states that on May 7, 2018, Discovery Tours abruptly ended operations and filed for bankruptcy in United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio because of Cipolletti’s actions. Student trips to Washington, D.C. were cancelled for dozens of schools across Ohio and more than 5,000 families lost the money they had previously paid for trip fees.

Cipolletti also allegedly made statements under oath in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio on Dec. 10, 2018 in relation to his organization’s bankruptcy status, according to the July 24 media release. The defendant claimed that he did not owe his business any money.

The investigation was conducted by the Cleveland Division of the FBI and Akron Resident Agency.

In Twinsburg, an R.B. Chamberlin Middle School 2018 eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., still took place after the Twinsburg Board of Education agreed to cover $125,000 in expenses for the trip.

Hudson’s Board of Education also unanimously agreed to cover the costs for its two school trips that year, one to Washington, D.C., for its eighth-graders, and one to Dearborn, Mich., for fifth-graders.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@recordpub.com