Travel agent charged with theft

ABINGTON, Pa. - September 22, 2008 - Authorities say 66-year-old Frances Balshan has had a good reputation of putting together overseas package tours for groups. She did that for the Philadelphia Zoo and other nonprofits in this area.

However, something went terribly wrong last year, concerning a tour of east Africa for the St. Louis Zoo.

Her now defunct agency, "World Travel Vignettes" set up a trip to Kenya and Tanzania, and Balshan collected $197,000.

Investigators say, only $10,000 made it to African tour operators.

Following her arraignment, Balshan professed her innocence.

"I have the best and most honest operation in the whole world of travel," said Frances Balshan. "I've taken no money from that zoo."

Montgomery County D.A. Lisa Furman doesn't agree, charging her with theft.

"She took the money for herself and converted all the funds for her own use," Furman said.

Balshan paints herself as a victim of someone who stole money from her. She now has a new online travel venture and hints that, if it makes money, it would go to pay not only the zoo but other people that she owes.

In court, she told the judge she is ill, penniless, and needs a public defender.

The D.A. noted Balshan's arrest was delayed until Monday because she had been traveling in Egypt.

As for the St. Louis people, the 36 of them were to take their trip to Africa at the last minute. A large nonprofit with the St. Louis Zoo stepped in and paid the freight.

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