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A high-flying partner in a Chicago travel agency has been charged with fraud for allegedly stealing and redeeming nearly $2 million worth of Delta Air Lines frequent flyer points.
Gennady Podolsky, 43, “used his knowledge of the travel industry to take advantage of his travel agency clients,” Atlanta-based U.S. Attorney Byung Pak said in a statement Friday. “Through his access, he allegedly took advantage of Delta Airlines corporate frequent flyer program, illegally reaping millions of SkyBonus points worth more than $1.75 million.”
Podolsky racked up 42 million points in a year beginning in the spring of 2014, according to prosecutors.
The dual Ukrainian and U.S. citizen and managing partner of the Vega International Travel Services was profiled in 2016 in a feature in Wired that said he had a “bag of tricks” to get customers where they wanted to go. Podolsky described himself as “very creative.” Transportation is the “system of arteries that holds the world together,” he told Wired. “It’s just very exciting.”
Vega Travel catered to customers of eastern European and Russian descent living abroad, according to the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the northern district of Georgia (Delta is headquartered in Atlanta.) Officials say Podolsky took advantage of a large amount of points accrued through Delta’s SkyBonus plan, which allows registered businesses to earn points to trade for free miles or other benefits when their employees travel.
He allegedly arranged to register a SkyBonus account in the name of a fertility center, which was owned and operated by a relative of the president of Vega. Tickets that Podolsky booked for other customers would rack up SkyBonus miles for the fertility center, even though the travel clients had no connection to the business, according to prosecutors.
Podolsky was arraigned Thursday on 12 counts of wire fraud.
Podolsky’s lawyer said his actions were not fraudulent. “Podolsky “is a well-respected and highly skilled travel adviser who has served a loyal clientele for many years,” attorney Seth Kirschenbaum said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “While the government says Delta is a victim, the evidence at trial will show Delta actually netted millions of dollars of profits from its relationship with Mr. Podolsky.”
The airline said in a statement: “We’re happy to see any kind of fraud indicted and continue to work with the FBI and the District Attorney’s office to make sure this case is prosecuted to its fullest extent.”