She took expensive trips to Las Vegas, New Orleans, Aspen and Mexico, federal prosecutors say. She purchased a boat and vehicles, they say, bought tickets to concerts and sporting events and threw extravagant parties during a nearly yearlong alleged scam involving the sale of millions of dollars in worthless travel vouchers.
At one point, she even posed as an airline employee to further her Ponzi-like scheme, according to federal investigators.
Patricia Urbanovsky, the owner of Creative Creations, an Omaha event-planning company, was indicted by federal authorities this week, charged with nine counts of money laundering and 16 counts of wire fraud.
Charges were filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in U.S. District Court in Omaha.
Her attorney, Steve Lefler, said he knew charges were coming, but he maintained his client's innocence.
"It is an honest business mistake that was made," he said Friday.
Urbanovsky, who Lefler said learned of the charges Friday morning, will appear in federal court on March 21. She is not a flight risk and won't be jailed, Lefler said. He said he estimates that Urbanovsky could face seven to 10 years behind bars if she's convicted on all counts.
"This will go to trial," Lefler said. "There is a 'rest of the story' that needs to be heard."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been investigating the case, which court documents describe as "similar to a Ponzi scheme," for more than six months.
Urbanovsky's alleged scam was hatched around May 2014 and continued through March of last year. At one point, to allay suspicions, she fraudulently posed as an employee of Southwest Airlines, emailing employees and customers with assurances, according to charging documents.
Southwest was not involved in voucher sales.
Square Inc., a San Francisco-based payment processor that ran more than $7 million in payments for Creative Creations, is out more than $4.7 million, according to charging papers.
Creative Creations sold vouchers for travel on Southwest Airlines that it said were valid for travel anywhere in the United States for about $150 or less.
Authorities allege that Urbanovsky paid her employees a commission for each voucher sold. The company would then create an invoice documenting the purchase, which served as the customer's "voucher."
Purchasers booked flights through Creative Creations' online portal. Some people were able to successfully book travel through late March of 2015, but others came away empty-handed.
Nearly 1,600 complaints from throughout the United States have been filed with the Better Business Bureau in Omaha against the event-planning company. Alleged losses associated with those complaints total more than $1.3 million, said Jim Hegarty, president of the BBB that serves Nebraska, South Dakota and parts of Iowa and Kansas.
"Nearly every state had victims," Hegarty said. "This has impacted a tremendous number of consumers all across the country, and we've been regularly asked about the case."
Hegarty said the BBB is pleased that the case is moving forward. He said he hoped that alleged victims, who have not been reimbursed by their financial institutions, will recover some of their losses.
Meanwhile, the Douglas County Attorney's Office earlier had charged Urbanovsky with three felony counts of theft for allegedly bilking employees out of $141,000. Urbanovsky allegedly duped them into using their personal credit cards to cover business expenses. A trial on those counts has been set for June, Lefler said.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said his office worked hand-in-hand with federal authorities throughout the investigation.
The Nebraska Labor Department also investigated Creative Creations, issuing a citation last July for a violation of the Wage Payment and Collection Act. The citation was for $500 in addition to $1,000 in outstanding wages.
To date, neither has been paid, an agency spokeswoman said.
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