Daryl Turner, who admitted being the mastermind of a travel club scam that netted millions of dollars from vacation-hungry customers, was sentenced today to seven years in prison and led off in handcuffs.
Turner’s wife Robyn Bernstein received five years probation for her part in the swindle.
The sentences, handed down in Superior Court in Burlington County, came after the couple pleaded guilty to second-degree theft by deception charges in August.
Turner, who wore a white thermal shirt and burgundy slacks, declined to comment before his sentencing. “No one believes anything you say, even the customers,” he told a reporter.
Turner, 42, and Bernstein, 44, promised customers of their travel clubs low-cost luxury vacations in exotic locales in exchange for membership fees that often exceeded $5,000, but it was a ruse. After collecting money from would-be travelers, the couple would shut down the travel club and reopen a new club under another name, and not deliver the promised vacations to customers.
“After law enforcement shut down Turner’s shady travel companies, he opened a new one and went back to his old tricks,” said Elie Honig, director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “By sending Turner to prison, we have ended his fraud spree and warned the public that this is not a man you want to trust with your money.”
Turner’s company names included Dreamworks Vacation Club, Bentley Travel, Modern Destinations Unlimited, Blue Water Gateway, Five Points Travel Company, La Bonne Vie Travel and Vacation Clubs LLC.
The criminal charges said the couple allegedly laundered more than $700,000 from their illegitimate businesses to pay for their Marlton home, which public records showed was worth $751,300 in 2011. The state put a lien against the home when Turner was first arrested in July 2011, and it seized eight bank accounts, five luxury cars including a Ferrari and a Bentley, and a speedboat.
“Turner carried out one fraudulent scheme after another, stealing from hundreds of unsuspecting customers who thought he would make traveling more affordable for them,” said acting attorney general John Hoffman. “Instead, he ruthlessly stole the money they had set aside for their vacations. This sentence puts Turner safely behind bars, where he can no longer deliver his devious sales pitches, and it requires him to pay full restitution to his victims.”
As part of the plea deal. Turner and Bernstein agreed to forfeit the Marlton home and the other assets seized in the investigation, which will be liquidated as part of the approximately $2.6 million in restitution due to his victims.
The pair had faced charges including money laundering that could have lead to 20 years in prison and fines exceeding $1 million each if convicted.
“I’m proud of the state,” said Mike Hagan, a customer of Turner’s Travel Deals, one the many companies featured in The Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column, which extensively covered Turner’s exploits. “Seven years is good. He’s not going to get his cappuccinos and steak and martinis.”
Hagan paid $3,000 by credit card and was supposed to pay an additional $2,100 in installments using automatic payments from his checking account. With help from the Bamboozled column, those payments were stopped, but Hagan never recouped his $3,000.
Like hundreds of other consumers, Hagan is waiting to hear from the state about getting his money back.
“The civil and criminal cases are concluded but we do not consider this matter closed until restitution is in the hands of these consumers,” said Eric Kanefsky, director of the state’s Consumer Affairs Division.
After the sentencing, Turner’s attorney Jeffrey Zucker said Turner “is remorseful for anyone who lost money and he wants to make restitution.”
The judge granted Turner’s request for 90 more days to allow his attorney to show proof that some customers received refunds, charge backs or otherwise benefited from the travel service. Zucker said they estimate about $450,000 should be cut from the restitution figure offered by the state.
The Bamboozled column will share the restitution news as it becomes available.