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Family who owns Discovery Tours paid themselves back before filing for bankruptcy

Posted at 8:33 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-08 21:49:12-04

Discovery Tours, the company that left thousands of students and dozens of local districts in a lurch, filed for bankruptcy Monday, but it's still unclear what went wrong and where all of the money paid for school trips has gone.

The Discovery Tours Chapter 7 claim reports the company has about $1.4 million in assets but owes as much as $3.9 million.

News 5 found that before the company filed for bankruptcy, the owner and vice president of Discovery Tours were still taking money from clients for trips and paying themselves and their family.

The 1,944 page filing doesn't explain why the company failed after more than 30 years in business with millions of dollars in revenue reported the past few years. The Cipolletti family, who owns and operates the business, has not explained that either. They've been impossible to track down for the last week, despite News 5 showing up at their listed home addresses and administrative offices in Mayfield every day.

Discovery Tours won't even publicly answer to the schools they have a history with — the company's president, Alfred Cipolletti, is a former Mayfield Schools guidance counselor and Richmond Heights school board member. 

As difficult as the Cipollettis may be to track down for answers, the bankruptcy documents do tell some of the family's story for them. 

The filing details large sums of expense reimbursements made to six family members who work for or have loaned money to the company. These reimbursements were made before the bankruptcy filing and totaled $768,840.71. Most of that money went to Discovery Tours Vice President Joeseph Cipolletti who, according to the filing, was owed $537,348.90 for loan repayments and payments made on his personal credit cards. 

Those same six family members who were given reimbursements are listed among creditors in this filing, claiming they are still owed more than $738,000, as well as salary. 

But there are thousands of Ohio families who also want to be paid back, families who didn't know any of this was going on before handing their hard-earned money over to a company that clearly knew it had money issues.

Attorney Lester Potash, the lawyer for the three members of the Cipolletti family running the company, told News 5 on the phone on Tuesday that Discovery Tours' insurance policy through Zurich Insurance should hopefully cover some of the money owed to students' families. Potash did not clarify how much of the money could be covered, but said a bankruptcy trustee will determine that. 

Rabin & Rabin Co., L.P.A., the law firm handling the bankruptcy case, has not returned News 5's phone calls. Discovery Tours is paying the firm $10,000 for the bankruptcy filing.

News 5 is also waiting to hear back from James Richlak, the attorney who advised the company and Alfred Cipolletti for more than 30 years. He was not part of the filing.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office is currently investigating this issue after taking nearly 500 complaints. Several different county prosecutors are also digging into Discovery Tours' history and searching for criminal behavior.

Meanwhile, dozens of school districts are scrambling to salvage lost trips. Many districts are using tax dollars to make it happen.