Attorney General Martha Coakley Files Lawsuit Against Multiple Businesses and Individuals That Conspired to Sell Fake Vacation Club Memberships
Plymouth, Methuen Travel Businesses Allegedly Deceived Consumers Out of Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars
The complaint, filed late last week in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that Only Way 2 Go Travel, of Plymouth, Fantasia Travel Group of Methuen, Outrigger Vacation Club of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and multiple individuals associated with those enterprises used unfair and deceptive marketing and sales tactics to sell memberships for a vacation club that offered few, if any, of the benefits promised.
"This was a classic bait and switch scheme by these companies against consumers who were simply hoping to reduce the costs of their summer vacations," Attorney General Coakley said. "They were lured with promises of free airline tickets and travel rebates, but after the consumers paid an initial fee up front, they received none of those benefits."
According to the complaint, the defendants lured consumers through mail and telephone solicitations to their Plymouth and Methuen presentation centers by promising them prizes and gifts of airline travel, weekend getaways, and rebate cards. Once consumers arrived at the presentation centers to claim their prizes, defendants subjected these consumers to high pressure sales tactics designed to induce those consumers to purchase memberships in the Outrigger Vacation Club.
The complaint alleges that consumers entered into the membership contracts based upon false promises that they would receive better-than-Internet wholesale prices on vacation packages, cruises, accommodations and other travel services. None of the consumers who complained to the Attorney General's Office ever received the prizes or gifts initially promised to them. Instead, they left the Plymouth and Methuen sales presentation venues having spent as much as $8,500 for vacation club memberships that were essentially worthless when compared with travel arrangements they could make themselves using one of the major Internet travel search engines or by calling airlines, hotels and resorts directly.
Judge Raymond J. Brassard issued a temporary restraining order that secures assets the defendants may have, prohibits them from destroying or altering any records and prohibits them from continuing to market and sell travel services and vacation club membership in Massachusetts.
The lawsuit was filed against the following named defendants and a number of unnamed "John Doe" defendants whose identities the Commonwealth will seek to ascertain during discovery. In particular, the complaint alleges the defendants' roles were as follows:
- Charles R. ("Robert") Caliri is the principal owner of Fantasia and Only Way 2 Go and is alleged to be responsible for orchestrating, implementing and perpetuating the unfair and deceptive vacation club marketing and sales scheme perpetrated by the defendants.
- Richard S. Cardillo and Richard Ciavola are the general managers of Only Way 2 Go and/or Fantasia. As the general managers, they are also allegedly responsible for orchestrating, implementing and perpetuating the unfair and deceptive vacation club marketing and sales scheme by managing the businesses' day-to-day operations.
- Mandred Henry, Joseph S. Lento, and Scott Roselund routinely participated in the sales process as managers and/or as agents of the businesses authorized to sign sales contracts. As managers and agents, it is alleged that they routinely use misrepresentation, coercion, and distraction to induce consumers to sign Outrigger Vacation Club membership contracts.
- Outrigger Vacation Club is an Oklahoma-based business that provides promotional materials to Only Way 2 Go and Fantasia; maintains the business operation that supports the Outrigger Vacation Club memberships; and knows, or should know, that the other defendants engage in unfair and deceptive marketing and sales practices to sell Outrigger memberships at Fantasia and Only Way 2 Go.
Since January, 2009, the Attorney General's office has received more than seventy-five complaints from consumers who have fallen victim to the defendants' scheme. Consumers who purchased an Outrigger membership paid on average a membership price of approximately $4,700.
The complaint alleges that by engaging in the above conduct, the defendants violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act and engaged in civil conspiracy. The complaint seeks penalties, restitution for financial harm suffered by consumers and a court order permanently prohibiting the defendants from maintaining, operating or owning an interest in any travel business.
The Attorney General's Office offers the following advice to consumers considering utilizing a travel club:
- If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Although some deals are genuine, many involve fine print that devalues the deal. Any business that offers you "something for nothing" is not going to be able to stay in business for long.
- Beware of:
- Instant travel offers. Companies may offer special discounted travel rates, but be aware that only suppliers of such travel services - like cruiselines, hotels, auto rental companies, airlines - can offer discounts to their services.
- Demanding sales representatives. Representatives may try to elicit a credit card number or other financial information before explaining the conditions of their offer, saying they will use the information for "identification purposes." If a sales representative refuses to provide detailed information about the total cost of the travel offer without this financial information, this may result in misuse of your credit card.
- Ask Questions.
- Do you have to travel to a distant location before the company pays for "free" travel?
- Are there additional fees for the peak tourist season? When is the peak season?
- What happens if the hotel or other accommodations are completely booked? What will the company do if it can't match your request with a specific vacation time? Can you get your money back?
- If a refundable deposit is required, when and how do you get it back?
- Is the rate competitive with rates available through other travel agents, airlines, etc.?
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Gillian Feiner and Gabriel Thornton of Attorney General Coakley's Consumer Protection Division with assistance from paralegals Yolanda Kruczkowski and Krista Roche, also of the Consumer Protection Division, and Investigator Monique Cascarano, of Attorney General Coakley's Investigations Division.