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A former employee of The Vacation Ownership Group LLC of Pleasantville, New Jersey, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for conspiring to defraud owners of timeshare properties by offering phony consulting services, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.         

Joseph Saxon, 42, of Brigantine, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Noel L. Hillman to a superseding information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Judge Hillman imposed the sentence today in Camden federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

 The Vacation Ownership Group, a/k/a VO Group LLC, had offices in Mays Landing, New Jersey, and Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, and claimed to offer to owners of timeshares consulting services that included cancelling, purchasing and upgrading the timeshares.

In 2010, Saxon started working at the VO Group and was trained by VO Group co-owner Adam Lacerda, 31, of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, to call customers using prepared scripts. The defendant called customers and gave them the false impression that he was working for a bank or lending institution. After hearing Saxon’s false representations, some customers sent checks to the VO Group. For example, Saxon falsely told one victim that Saxon was working with the bank that held the victim’s timeshare mortgage and that the bank wanted to settle the loan for a fraction of the price. The victim then mailed a check for $5,925 to the VO Group. Saxon admitted causing more than $120,000 in losses.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Hillman sentenced Saxon to three years of supervised release.

Lacerda, who was previously convicted at trial for his role in the scheme, was sentenced to 27 years in prison on June 25, 2015.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of FBI’s Atlantic City Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel in Newark; and special agents from the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Cheryl Garcia, New York Region, for the investigation. He also thanked the N.J. Department of Labor and Workforce Development for its assistance.

 
 
A jury convicts the principal of  a massive telemarketing scheme which operated under the company names Resort Sales Group, Vacation Realty International and Vacation Direct USA. 
Following a nine-day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater, a federal jury has found one of the ten conspirators in an estimated $10 million resort timeshare telemarketing fraud conspiracy that victimized at least 5000 individuals, many of whom were over age 55, guilty on all 26 counts of an indictment returned in the Northern District of Texas in October 2012.  John Parker, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, made the announcement today.

Fabian C. Fleifel, 45, of Winter Springs, Florida, was convicted late yesterday on one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud; nineteen counts of mail fraud telemarketing; and six counts of wire fraud telemarketing.  The jury also found that the conspiracy count affected a financial institution and that the wire fraud and mail fraud counts were in connection with the conduct of telemarketing that victimized ten or more persons over the age of 55.  He faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine on the conspiracy conviction and 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the other 25 convictions.  Additionally, the telemarketing enhancements permit the Judge to impose up to an additional 10 years imprisonment.  Judge Fitzwater temporarily remanded him into custody following yesterday’s verdict.

The following eleven coconspirators have pleaded guilty to their respective roles in the scheme and are awaiting sentencing, Edmond Charles Burke, 34, of Sanford, Florida; Kari Lynn Cash, 46, of Winter Park, Florida; Kevin Jacob Frater, 35, of Longwood, Florida; Bradley James Gomez, 36, of Longwood, Florida; Rani F. Khoury, 40, of Lake Mary, Florida; Courtney Darrell Lister, 39, of Midland, Texas; Joseph Bud Ramos, 27, of Tennessee; Armanda Nadine Rizkallah, 32, of Oviedo, Florida; Eric Rosado, of Orlando, Florida, Kevin Sanchez of Orlando, Florida, and Cesar Trinidad of Apopka, Florida. 

The government presented evidence during trial that Fleifel conspired with others to make unsolicited interstate telephone calls to owners of resort timeshare properties to induce them into paying fees associated with the bogus sale of their property.  Fleifel and others opened bank accounts and entered into merchant account agreements to process and collect funds raised in the scheme, and they set up phony mailing addresses to collect funds mailed in by timeshare owners.

Fleifel hired and trained telemarketers to work in boiler rooms he set up.  These telemarketers were instructed to call timeshare owners using scripted sales pitches that falsely represented, for example, that a bona fide buyer was interested in buying their property, that the buyer had paid money into an escrow account, and that the buyer was ready to close on the property.  The telemarketers falsely advised timeshare owners that they would receive all the funds from the sale within days, they must pay a one-time fee to cover the title search and other closing costs, and they would be refunded all fees paid if the sale did not close within 90 days.

After the conspirators obtained money from the timeshare owners, they made additional false and fraudulent statements to lull them and to keep them from investigating the transactions, complaining to law enforcement, or requesting charge backs to their credit cards

The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Orlando Police Department.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys C.S. Heath and Joseph M. Revesz are prosecuting.

View the full press release HERE>




 
 
Tammie Lynn Cline pleaded guilty recently to her role in a timeshare sale scheme based in Seminole County that swindled at least $1.6 million out of timeshare owners across the country, officials say.

Cline, of Leominster, Mass., and her business partner, 28-year-old Mark Gardner, of Osteen, are accused of running a fraudulent telemarketing call center that targeted timeshare owners, saying there were people interested in buying their properties, federal court records state. All the owners had to do was wire the business – known as Universal Timeshare Sales Associates, or Gardner Cline, LLC – anywhere from $1,600 up to $2,200 to cover sale fees, records state. But after the owners paid the fees and gave up personal information, their timeshares wouldn't sell. The company then ignored requests for refunds and disputed any chargeback claims from credit card companies, the records state. And the owners were out thousands of dollars, which totaled to at least $1.6 million from April 2010 to May 2013.

Investigators said Gardner, Cline and their telemarketers claimed to be based out of Oregon, as to not reveal their location in Seminole County. They often told owners that there was a buyer "in the showroom at that moment" ready to purchase their timeshare, or a buyer had already deposited money into an escrow account, or there was a buyer ready to pay a specific amount, according to the records. Investigators said none of those claims were true.

Cline pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. She faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Gardner is scheduled to go to trial in September.

 
 
Consumers are often targets for fraudulent telemarketers who make promises to sell or "relieve" timeshare owners of their unwanted vacation ownership contracts. However, another common scam that does not seem to get as much attention in the mainstream media is the unsolicited phone call from a  company claiming to be "associated with RCI" and promising  to help timeshare owners get the most out of their timeshare points. These con artists purchase black market owner lists, that often contain very detailed information that is used to create the impression of legitimacy. The only way timeshare owners can truly protect themselves is to remember one simple fact........

ANY UNSOLICITED CALL REGARDING YOUR TIMESHARE IS MOST LIKELY A SCAM!

Legitimate timeshare brokers do not telemarket. Honest timeshare companies do not purchase illegal owner lists. If you receive an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to be affiliated with your timeshare resort or exchange company, simply hang up the phone and call your timeshare company directly (you'll find the phone number on your last m. fee bill). If it is a real call- they'll reconnect you to the proper person!

A Fox affiliate ran a story detailing one of these scams:

" ... Juli and Skip Hampton said they were victims of this scheme and lost over $8,000. “When we look back on it, it was a lot of smoke and mirrors,” Skip said. “And telling you this and moving onto that, and just a lot of shuffling papers…and it was just really quick stuff.”

Juli said it started with a phone call from someone who she thought was affiliated with their original time share exchange, RCI. “They said that there were going to be some changes in the way RCI…let you schedule vacations. And so, I said, ‘Okay, we’d go to this meeting,’” she said.

By the end of that dinner meeting at a St. Peters restaurant, the Hamptons thought they would improve their package. So they paid $8,143 to Nevada-based R&R Venture Group.

“Where we should have questioned is when we knew they were supposed to be an RCI affiliate and yet they wanted us to hook up to another company,” Juli said. “And it didn’t—now looking back—it doesn’t make sense.”

The Nevada Secretary of State shows the business is dissolved and it has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau.   “They’re being told we can help you sell off those extra points that you haven’t used this year,” said Chris Thetford, BBB spokesman. “Or we can help you navigate the process of using your points at other places.”  The BBB reports its investigators have identified half-a-dozen businesses that have taken money and not provided the promised service. The meal presentation should be a red flag.  “Sometimes it’s hard when people are in that situation, after they’ve been given a lunch to say no to someone,” Thetford said.... "

Click HERE for the full article. 



 
 
An Atlantic County, New Jersey, man was sentenced today to 324 months in prison for his role in a $3 million conspiracy to scam customers by offering phony consulting services to owners of timeshares through the New Jersey-based Vacation Ownership Group LLC, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced. 

Adam Lacerda, 31, of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, was convicted in September 2013 of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, nine counts of mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud flowing a seven-week trial before U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden federal court. 

According to documents filed in this case and the evidence presented at trial: Lacerda and his codefendants schemed to defraud hundreds of timeshare owners by offering fraudulent consulting services through their company, the Vacation Ownership Group (now VO Financial). Lacerda, the company founder, president and chief executive officer, devised the company’s fraudulent sales pitches. He directed his sales force to tell numerous lies to VO customers, including that VO worked with the banks holding the customers’ loans, would use money sent by customers to pay off the customers’ loans on their timeshares, and could cancel customers’ timeshares with money back. 

Three codefendants were convicted with Lacerda at the same trial: his wife, Ashley Lacerda, 35, the company vice president and chief operating officer, sent fraudulent contracts to customers and managed the office. Ian Resnick, 40, of Absecon, New Jersey, a convicted bank robber, started as a salesman giving the fraudulent sales pitch but became Adam Lacerda’s enforcer, with the title “director of compliance.” Genevieve Manzoni, 49, of Lake Worth, Fla. was a top VO sales representative who falsely told one victim she worked with a bank, another victim that she worked with a timeshare developer. They are all awaiting sentencing. 

The 14 victims who testified at trial – including business executives, veterans, senior citizens, a lawyer and a professor – were defrauded out of a total of tens of thousands of dollars by the defendants’ sophisticated scheme. In addition to the prison term, Judge Hillman sentenced Adam Lacerda to three years of supervised release. 

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of FBI’s Atlantic City Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel in Newark; and special agents from the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent Cheryl Garcia, New York Region, for the investigation. He also thanked the N.J. Department of Labor and Workforce Development for its assistance.
 
 
United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced that David Brandon Ball, 35, of  Charleston pled guilty in federal court today to his role in defrauding timeshare owners throughout the United States and Canada.  

This is the second prosecution stemming from the shut down  of Mountain State Resales, LLC- a bogus company used to defraud timeshare owners hoping to sell their unwanted vacation ownership interest. The scheme also included a non-existent company "Internal Revenue Recovery  Associates", which further targeted the victims of fraud by claiming to help consumers recover lost payments to fraudulent timeshare marketing companies.  There is also mention of another scheme using the  fake name "International Transfers and Documents".

The full press release can be viewed by clicking HERE. 





 
 
A new article in the Hamilton Spectator claims that timeshare owners Pino and Rita Farruggia paid Pacific Property Transfer thousands of dollars to have their timeshare ownership liquidated. The article claims that the promised transfer never occurred.

"... "They (Pacific Property Transfer) tell you that once you sign on with them, you'll never have to pay maintenance fees again. They will look after everything for you," Rita said. "It cost around $3,200 to sign up with them. They said this was for legal fees."   But nothing happened. Pacific Transfer took their money then refused to take their calls, she said. Action Line was unable to contact Pacific Property Transfer. There are other stories online regarding this company, whose owners operate several similar time-share transfer firms. Pacific Transfer was given an F rating by the Better Business Bureau for failure to address consumer complaints...."


The story does conclude on a positive note, however. The resort developer, Wyndham Vacation Ownership, stepped up to the plate to allow the Farruggia family to relinquish the  ownership back to the resort. 


Please click HERE to read the full story.
 
 
A new article releases more details about a lawsuit filed against a timeshare developer and cruise line over alleged deceptive charges which are assessed to consumers as part of a timeshare exchange program. Daniel Finerman, a Flagler County, Fla., resident, filed a lawsuit against Marriot Vacations Worldwide Corporation, and International Cruise Excursion Gallery Inc. in September 2014. In the action, he claimed the companies overcharged members of it time-share program through bogus fees and that Carnival Cruise Lines deceptively created certain fees and inflated others charged to customers trading in timeshare "points" for discounts.

That case was filed in the Flagler County circuit court, but was later removed to the Jacksonville Federal Court. In November, Finerman voluntarily dismissed claims against the International Cruise Excursion Gallery. His claims against Marriot are pending.

In his latest complaint, Finerman says he and his wife booked a six-day Caribbean cruise with Carnival using accumulated points from his Marriot Vacation Club timeshare. The cruise was scheduled to depart from Ft. Lauderdale on November 9, 2014.

 "In addition to his points, plaintiff paid to Carnival Corporation the sum of $566.17, which consisted of the following: $159 each for Port fees, $114.11 each for government fees, and a processing fee of $19.95," the complaint states.     Finerman says he contacted Marriot Vacation Club to question the high charges, and was advised the extra fees were not covered by his timeshare points, and that they were assessed by Carnival Corporation.     Still questioning the additional costs for government and port fees, Finerman says he then checked the Carnival website, and followed online the booking steps for the same cruise.

 Finerman claims that "when booking through the Carnival Corporation website, rather than through Marriot Vacation Club, the total governmental and port fees quoted for plaintiff and his wife on the identical cruise amounted to $253.08."     Therefore, he says, he was overcharged $311.14 when he booked the cruise using his timeshare points.

 Finerman's suit claims Carnival deceptively charged he and other members of the purported class illusionary government and port fees to increase its profits, violating the Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
     
He is represented by John A. Yanchunis from Morgan & Morgan Complex Litigation Group.

Read the full story by clicking "Here"
 
 
Silverleaf Resorts, a timeshare developer and operator , has filed a lawsuit against  Advocate for the Consumer  dba Legal Advocate for the Consumer and its owners Charles H. Williams and Glenda Williams in Dallas County Court on Thursday. The suit claims that the business is a "sham entity" that "significantly interferes" with Silverleaf's and other timeshare companies' legitimate businesses. Silverleaf seeks actual and punitive damages for tortious interference with contracts, intentional interference with prospective business relations, defamation and business disparagement.

     "Defendants made false allegations and published defamatory statements about Silverleaf in order to induce Silverleaf timeshare owners to pay significant up-front fees on the basis that defendants would 'assist' owners in terminating their contracts with Silverleaf," the 12-page complaint states.  "Once owners paid their fee and signed up for these services, defendants continued to defame and interfere (so as to lure their next victim), but performed no work on the owners' individual cases aside from providing and/or mailing in form letters." Advocate for the Consumer's fees range from $1,500 to $1,600 fee, Silverleaf claims.

     The lawsuit also alleges that Advocate for the Consumer promotes their business "as a mediation company, equipped with a team of lawyers, paralegals and former timeshare executives, that could assist consumers in 'getting out' of their timeshare contracts and obtaining refunds of their timeshare membership purchase. Defendants also promised that they would negotiate with Silverleaf for refunds of funds that owners had already paid under their timeshare contract."

     "After receiving the up-front fee, defendants instructed, encouraged, and induced owners to breach their timeshare contracts with Silverleaf by stopping payments to the company immediately, which, of course, subjects the owners to potentially disastrous legal and financial harm, including foreclosure, lawsuits, deterioration of credit score, loss of principal payments made, and loss of enjoyment," the complaint stated. "Defendants also instructed, encouraged and induced owners to stop communications with Silverleaf, thereby exasperating the owners' problems."

     Silverleaf claims the defendants told owners to justify their lack of payments by making false claims.

     "They were told, in essence, that a good offense makes for a great defense," the complaint states. "The ACA provided the owners with form letters filled with prefabricated allegations against Silverleaf and either submitted the letter to Silverleaf itself or instructed the owners to do so."

     In April 2013, Texas Attorney General, now Governor-elect Greg Abbott, sued the defendants in Dallas County Court.  Abbott's office made similar accusations, of no work being performed; an injunction and asset freeze were issued the next month.
 
 
Below is an excerpt from the press release. Read the full article by clicking HERE.  If you believe that you have been a victim of fraud perpetrated by the company, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at MyFloridaLegal.com or in-state via phone at 1-866-NO-SCAM. Out-of-state individuals can call 850-414-3990.


"...  Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office has filed a lawsuit against Consumer Collection Advocates, Corp., and Michael Robert Ettus, CCA Principal, for allegedly targeting consumers who were victims of previous frauds or scams. In return for upfront payments and a percentage of any recovery, the company contracted with these victims, guaranteeing to recover the monies the victims lost as the result of the earlier fraud or scam, but often failing to deliver on that guarantee. The Attorney General’s Office also seeks to obtain an injunction to stop the business from operating in violation of Florida laws. The Federal Trade Commission has filed a parallel lawsuit against CCA in the U.S. Southern District Court of Florida. The Attorney General’s Office, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs and the Better Business Bureau received 115 complaints about the defendants’ business practices. 

“This company allegedly took advantage of consumers who had already been exploited in previous scams, and today we have taken steps to stop this business from unlawfully operating in Florida,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

According to the investigation, the defendants violated:


    · Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Practices Act by misrepresenting defendants’ business status and purported fee recovery services and making false and misleading statements to induce consumers to pay for goods or services;
    · The Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by requesting or receiving upfront payment from consumers for services represented to recover or assist in the return of money paid for by the consumer in a previous telemarketing transaction; and
    · The Florida Telemarketing Act by refusing consumers a refund, credit or replacement for services which are not presented or not received as promised..."