WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — A Winter Haven woman is accused of stealing $1.6 million from dozens of people and several financial institutions.

Jaleeann Johnston, 42, was arrested Thursday by detectives from the Identity Theft Strike Force of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators said Johnston scammed 64 people plus several financial institutions through her position as office manager and travel agent for Cruise Link Travel.

"The biggest victim by far was Johnston's employer, who was also a close relative, her own flesh and blood. She more or less destroyed the woman's business and brought about substantial monetary losses and grief to her customers. Johnston's scheme was unsustainable, and her greed just kept burying her deeper," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

In Nov. 2018, an investigation was launched when a customer reported they had put a $339 deposit down on a cruise. The cruise was never booked and the customer never got a refund. Then, one of the people who was supposed to go on that cruise received a credit card charge of about $13,000, investigators said.

From there, detectives uncovered similar cases and the investigation grew.

Investigators said Johnston used the operational account for Cruise Link Travel for day-to-day business and personal expenditures. She also used other people's bank information to support her personal lifestyle and to cover the costs of other cruises. Detectives said Johnston would cover her tracks by blaming other businesses involved in the transactions.

Most of the people impacted by Johnston's scheme incurred losses through fraudulent use of their credit card information, according to an arrest report.

The financial institutions were able to complete chargebacks which resulted
in minimal or no financial losses, investigators said.

Investigators said Johnston would transfer money through the accounts for Florida Best Peaches and Cruise Link Travel, companies that were owned by a close relative of Johnston.

The sheriff's office said that relative suffered the bulk of the losses -- approximately $1.3 million.

Finances were moved for Johnston's personal gain, to be used for shopping,
dining, spa and nail salons, bars, vehicle expenses, cash withdrawals and
fuel, according to detectives.

Johnston is charged with grand theft, aggravated white-collar crime, criminal use of personal ID and obtaining property by fraud.

Johnston is also the subject of similar investigations being conducted by police in Lakeland and Bartow.

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