Monday, February 16, 2009

Insider Deals at YTB Raise Questions, Concerns

Source: St Louis Today

"When YTB International held its annual convention in St. Louis earlier this month, the fast-growing travel company wanted to make a big splash.

So it commissioned an Indiana design firm to build a nearly life-size foam replica of the Statue of Liberty, 130 feet tall and 50,000 pounds, to be erected in the Edward Jones Dome and unveiled to much fanfare at the opening ceremonies.

It's unclear how much YTB paid for the massive statue — published estimates of its cost range from $1.8 million to $8 million — but the company that YTB hired to make it, BerylMartin of Griffith, Ind., has received more than $7 million for printing and event work for YTB since 2004, according to regulatory filings. And it's owned by YTB's trio of co-founders.

"The New Lady Liberty," as the foam colossus was called, is just the latest in a string of deals in recent years between Wood River-based YTB and companies owned or controlled by its top executives and board members. While it has been racking up big sales of online travel agencies to hundreds of thousands of people, it has been paying out millions of dollars for office buildings, construction contracts and sales materials to companies controlled by a handful of insiders. "

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