A federal appeals court last week reversed a lower court’s ruling, saying customers who claimed Turner’s travel companies bilked them out of thousands of dollars showed enough evidence to pursue their suit.
The court upheld the dismissal for two defendants: Vacation Travel Club and FIA Card Services.
The continuation of the suit against Turner and the other travel companies came as good news to Jay Schlesinger, a former Turner client who is not involved in the class action case. The Edison man had paid $4,893 to Dream Vacations International — one of the companies named in the suit — in June 2009, but he said he never received the benefits he was promised.
“I’d like to see Turner really sweating,” said Schlesinger, who got his money back through a dispute with Chase, his credit card, after The Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column presented a paper trail of evidence to Chase. “The guy needs to be locked up. He needs to be punished for what he put so many people through.”
The initial class action suit was brought in 2009 against Turner and a variety of his travel companies, including Dream Vacations International, Bentley Travel, Dreamworks Vacation Club, Five Points Travel and Modern Destinations Unlimited.
It alleged customers were swindled when they were convinced to pay thousands of dollars for travel club memberships but they never received the promised discounts for travel services.
The complaint was made under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — RICO — alleging that Turner and his companies’ “racketeering activity” included mail fraud and wire fraud.
The judge dismissed that case without prejudice on March 15, 2010, saying the plaintiffs’ complaint wasn’t specific enough.
Attorney Gary Meyers of Denville amended the complaint, which last week went before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The appeals court reversed the district judge’s decision, allowing the case — Grant vs. Turner — to move on.
In the meantime, hundreds, if not thousands, of additional customers are waiting for refunds. Some 700 consumers filed complaints with the Division of Consumer Affairs in New Jersey. Still others claimed they were defrauded by Turner businesses in other states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, according to the attorneys general of those states.
Law enforcement in New Jersey been quiet about the Turner case in recent months.
Back in July 2011, Turner was arrested for his travel-related activities.
The Division of Criminal Justice executed a search warrant at Turner’s home, arresting Turner and charging him with second-degree theft by deception — which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine — for stealing more than $75,000 from consumers, the state said. Turner was later released on bail.
The state also seized eight bank accounts, five luxury cars — a 2011 Land Rover, a 2003 Land Rover, a 2007 Bentley, a 2001 Ferrari and a 1999 Porsche — and a 2002 Wellcraft Scarab Excel speedboat. Plus, it placed a lien on a Marlton home owned by Turner, the state’s Division of Criminal Justice said.
He shared the home with his wife, Robyn Bernstein, whom the Bamboozled column found to be listed as an officer on corporate filings for some of Turner’s travel companies.
The criminal charge came after Turner signed a $3 million settlement in February 2011 with Consumer Affairs, in which he pledged to pay nearly $2.2 million in restitution to customers of 11 travel companies. No funds have been paid to the state from the settlement.
The state said a second civil case filed by Consumer Affairs in June 2011 against Turner, Bernstein, VIP Executives and Travel Deals — a company about which the state received an additional 170 consumer complaints — is pending.
The Division of Criminal Justice said its criminal case is also pending, and the investigation continues.
“The theft by deception charge is an indictable offense and it will be presented to a grand jury,” said spokesman Peter Aseltine, who wasn’t able to give a timetable. “Every defendant does get bail and he was charged, which is all we can try to do to keep him in jail.”
Aseltine said the state still holds the assets that were seized from Turner upon his arrest, but he couldn’t say how much was in the bank accounts or what the assets were worth.
Attorney Meyers said he was pleased with most of the court’s ruling, but he was disappointed that FIA Card Services, which Meyers argued worked in conjunction with the travel companies by offering financing at travel club seminars, would not be part of the case.
“They took away the deep pockets and left us with the empty pockets,” he said. “The tragedy is that people get away with these things. That’s the reality right now.”
Turner’s attorney, Richard Gallucci, did not respond to requests for comment.