In February, the Consumer Affairs division of the Attorney General’s Office settled a $3 million lawsuit against Daryl Turner, a man the state said masterminded a travel scam empire using at least 11 travel company names. The companies collected money for travel services that were never delivered to customers, the state said.
The state said the Cherry Hill man would shut down one business and open elsewhere under another name when customers grew suspicious or asked for refunds.
Turner was also banned from engaging in travel-related businesses in New Jersey for five years.
The suit against Turner was first filed in 2009 and amended several times to add other companies through which Turner was accused of fleecing customers.
The last addition to the suit came in December 2010, when Judge Deanne Wilson of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, in Morris County approved the addition of Away We Go Promotions. The state also asked for Travel Deals of Marlton to be included, but it withdrew the motion after Turner’s attorney said his client did not own the company, said Jeff Lamm, spokesman for Consumer Affairs. Since the settlement — Bamboozled has received more than 30 complaints and queries from readers who attended seminars by Travel Deals in Marlton, in several Connecticut locations and in Massachusetts. And Daryl Turner’s name keeps popping up.
This particular Travel Deals seems to operate very much like Turner’s 11 bogus companies, according to accounts by consumers who attended the seminars.
“We decided to go because we thought the worst-case scenario would be that we’d walk away with two airline tickets and an eight-day, seven-night cruise for two hours of our weekend time,” said Sharp, a Burlington resident.
During the seminar, Sharp said, Travel Deals pitched a travel club membership for $8,995, with an additional annual charge of $299. For the “free” cruise, would-be vacationers would pay taxes and port charges of $498 and $100 to reserve airline seats.
Sharp decided not to buy in, and he said even the free cruise sounded suspect.
“They want money orders only to be sent to a P.O. box,” he said.
But other customers, like Kathy and Mike DeGregorio of Ocean County, were drawn in. They were attracted to offers of discounted Disney trips and beach-house rentals, and after a Feb. 23 seminar, they paid a negotiated club membership fee of $4,194 plus the first year’s $299 fee, Kathy DeGregorio said.
“We went to book trips, and we found out that the services they promised were not there,” she said. Their March 4 request for a refund was denied, she said.
Others who attended seminars shared similar stories.
Some attendees said the postcards they received were identical to the one that appeared in a photo with the original Bamboozled story on Nov. 1, 2010, about Turner and Away We Go Promotions.
Attendees said they were asked to pay, via money order, $498 in port charges and taxes and $100 to reserve the airfare for their “free” cruise — the same dollar figure reported by the customers of Turner’s companies.
They said they were offered club memberships for $8,995 or lower negotiated prices, but those who joined reported they never received discounted, or any, travel.
When they tried to book the “free” cruises offered by Travel Deals on major cruise lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Celebrity, customers said requested dates were unavailable. Second and third and fourth choices were also unavailable.
Some said their free cruise dates were confirmed, and they were told they’d receive the paperwork 14 days before the trip. Nothing ever came in the mail, and calls and e-mails went unanswered.
Bamboozled wondered whether Turner could really be behind Travel Deals, despite the five-year ban.
We found some interesting connections, including a biggie that started with an angry Travel Deals customer.
Michael Hagen said he paid more than $3,000 for a membership in January, but he grew concerned when his calls to the company were not returned. He did some sleuthing, contacting the leasing company for 110 Centre Blvd. in Marlton — the address used by Travel Deals. He said the company told him that VIP Executives, and a representative named “Daryl Bernstein,” signed the one-year lease. (Calls to the leasing company by Bamboozled were not returned.)
Bamboozled took that information a step further. VIP Executives is not registered in New Jersey, but it is registered in Nevada, where Daryl Turner and his wife, Robyn Bernstein, are listed as officers, and in Pennsylvania, where a March 2011 filing lists Robyn Bernstein as an officer. The same business filings show “travel sales” listed as the business purpose, and 110 Centre Blvd. in Marlton as a contact address.
What’s more, VIP Executives shares a New Jersey phone number with a Cherry Hill-based business called Dream Holdings, for which Daryl Turner is listed as the CEO. (Some of the companies involved in the New Jersey settlement were variations on the name “Dreamworks” and “Dream Vacations.”) That same phone number is listed as a cell phone under Daryl Turner’s name.
We called Turner on that number, and he denied involvement in Travel Deals and VIP Executives.
“I have nothing to do with Travel Deals,” Turner said. When asked about VIP Executives, he said, “I have no idea.”
When asked whether he could explain why, if he’s not involved with VIP, his and his wife’s names are listed as executives on corporate filings for VIP, Turner said, “No, I’m not.”
We asked Turner whether he’s paid any of the $2.2 million in restitution.
“We’re working on it,” he said, noting that most customers were happy. “If they asked for a refund, we gave refunds. If it’s buyer’s remorse, then we did not.”
DeGregorio’s refund request experience presents another interesting tale. In her credit card dispute, she learned payments do not go directly to Travel Deals, but to an escrow agent, and she shared with Bamboozled an e-mail sent to a Travel Deals rep named “Daryl” by the escrow company about the DeGregorio dispute.
She called the escrow agent to get additional information.
“[The rep] did not have an owner of the company on her file, but then I asked her who Daryl was and why he was speaking on behalf of our contract because we never met him,” DeGregorio said. “She said his name is Daryl Turner. I said, ‘Who is he to you?’ She said he was their contact person at Travel Deals.”
Turner’s attorney, Richard Gallucci, said his client is not part of Travel Deals or VIP Executives.
“If there are complaints regarding a company whether VIP Executives doing business as Travel Deals or what have you, my client Mr. Turner is not part of that company,” Gallucci said. “Someone would have to show Mr. Turner is getting a paycheck from Travel Deals. He’s under a pretty tight order from the attorney general.”
Thomas Calcagni, acting director of Consumer Affairs, said as a rule he can’t comment on ongoing investigations, but the state is “paying very close attention to Mr. Turner’s activities.”
“It would be a mistake for him to think we are going away,” Calcagni said.
Consumer Affairs has received seven new complaints about Travel Deals since January, and so far, a “handful” of customers received chargebacks on their credit cards, Lamm said. The state is still negotiating with banks on behalf of other customers, he said.
New Jersey isn’t the only state with interest in Turner. Pennsylvania is in the discovery phase of an ongoing civil case against Turner, Dreamworks Vacations and Five Points Travel, two of the companies named in the New Jersey settlement, said Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.
To file a complaint with Consumer Affairs, go online at state.nj.us/lps/ca/comp.htm or call (973) 504-6200 or (800) 242-5846.