The state today announced a more than $3 million settlement against the owner of at least 11 travel companies that bilked hundreds of consumers, promising travel deals and discounts that were never delivered.
Nearly $2.2 million of the judgment is earmarked for restitution to wronged consumers.
The state said Daryl Turner of Cherry Hill is the man behind the bogus travel companies, which opened and shut doors in Manalapan, Marlton, Egg Harbor Township and other locations in the state. Customers and state officials said until now, Turner has been an elusive force, skipping town and opening in a new locality when customers started asking for refunds.
The suit, first filed in 2009 but amended several times to add more company names, named Turner and the following companies: Dreamworks Vacation Club, Dreamworks Vacations, Dreamworks, Bentley Travel, Modern Destinations Unlimited, Blue Water, Five Points Travel Company, La Bonne Vie, Dream Vacations International, Vacation Clubs LLC and Away We Go Promotions.
“What this judgment means in real terms is an end to the Daryl Turner way of doing business,” said Thomas Calcagni, acting director of Consumer Affairs. “Unfulfilled promises of discount travel practices, bait-and-switch promotions tactics, no refunds no matter what — all of that ends now.’’
As part of the settlement, Turner must pay $3.086 million. Of that amount, $2.188 million is for restitution to wronged consumers, $478,000 is for civil penalties and the rest is for attorney costs and investigatory expenses.
The judgment also said Turner may not engage in any travel-related businesses in the state for five years, and he cannot open or operate like businesses in the future without state approval.
“For those consumers who were ripped off, our way is now clear to help get money back for them,” Calcagni said.
Calcagni said the judgment will permit the state to secure liens against any real property in which Turner has an interest, saying the state now has license to investigate and seize his assets.
He said the state will do exactly that until “every consumer is made whole and until every dollar in the judgment is satisfied.”
“That’s great,’’ said Stephanie Cohen, a Matawan resident who contacted Consumer Affairs after she read about Away We Go Promotions in Bamboozled, a column that appears every Monday in The Star-Ledger. After that column ran, the state added the company to its complaint.
Cohen and her mother paid $1,000 to Away We Go, but she said they never received any travel deals or a refund, despite several requests for their money back.
“He’s a thief, and he should go to jail,” said Alyssa Geibel, a Somerville woman profiled by Bamboozled after she paid $608 to Away We Go. She never received the promised travel discounts. “Turner should go to jail because he stole a lot of money from a lot of people.”
Tracey Della Pesca, another Away We Go customer Bamboozled profiled, was also happy to hear the news. She and her family paid $598 but never received any benefits or a refund.
“It’s one more step to getting somewhere, where before we weren’t getting anywhere,” Della Pesca said.
Calls to Turner’s attorney were not returned, nor were e-mails and calls to Turner’s businesses and home address.
Exactly when consumers will get their money back is uncertain.
“Now comes phase two — the part we’ve been waiting for — to go after this guy’s assets like a shark, and that could take a while,’’ Calcagni said.
People who filed complaints with Consumer Affairs against one of Turner’s travel companies will be notified by mail of the settlement, and Calcagni said the state will work with them to facilitate the reimbursements through credit card charge-backs.
Calcagni said about 200 of the 678 consumers who complained have already received charge-back refunds, and the state is encouraging those who haven’t filed complaints to do so.