Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Attorney General’s office had no comment to additional questions asked by Bamboozled. The Attorney General’s office answered every question it was asked.
After travel scam architect Daryl Turner was sentenced for seven years in prison last year for duping hundreds of customers and stealing their money — and his wife Robyn Bernstein received five years of probation — the couple’s assets were seized. Proceeds were to be paid to their hundreds of victims.
The Burlington County Superior Court was tasked with sending out the restitution checks. It said it had sent out between 750 and 800 checks totaling $771,000 of the $2.5 million Turner owes.
But it turns out that wasn’t accurate.
We knew something wasn’t right because we spoke to several customers who were supposedly on the restitution list but said they hadn’t received anything.
After that story ran, we heard from other customer who were concerned because they hadn’t received restitution. We recommended they follow up with Burlington County, and they learned they indeed were on the restitution list, but their checks hadn’t been sent yet.
Except for Andy Rizzo, a Turner customer who has been in touch with Bamboozled regarding his case since April 2014.
Rizzo paid $5,200 to become a member of Dreamworks Vacation Club in 2008 or 2009, but he soon knew he made a mistake. He cancelled the contract under the state’s three-day right of rescission, which Dreamworks ignored. Rizzo disputed the charge with his credit card company, but the lender didn’t grant the dispute, saying it was a contract issue — even though it knew there was pending litigation with the state.
When the state’s case concluded, Rizzo waited for news.
Back in July 2014, hundreds of Turner other customers received a letter from the state saying they’d receive restitution. Rizzo said he didn’t receive one.
So in the late summer and early fall, he started making phone calls to find out his status.
In October 2014, he reached the finance officer at the Burlington County Court who was in charge of sending out the restitution checks. The officer confirmed Rizzo was on the list to receive restitution, Rizzo said.
But when Rizzo checked back in November, the officer said Rizzo’s name was not on the list.
After some investigating, Rizzo said the state told him there was a memo in Rizzo’s file that said he had received a full refund from his credit card company. But that never happened, Rizzo said.
And when Bamboozled reported in December that Burlington County said restitution payments had gone out to all the claimants, Rizzo figured he’d be out of luck.
Rizzo started calling the state again, and he said the reps he talked to were confused about why he wasn’t on the list. They promised to call him back with news, he said, but by mid-January, no one contacted him.
He even contacted the governor’s office, a rep said they’d look into it, but Rizzo said he never got a call back from them, either.
Then it got worse.
“I just received a letter from a collection company stating I owed Dreamworks $1,800,” Rizzo told Bamboozled two weeks ago. “This is an outrage. I have been victimized by the Attorney General’s office, the Consumer Affairs Department, the Department of Criminal Justice and the governor’s office who said they were investigating. And now a collections company for someone who is in jail?”
We asked the state to clarify Rizzo’s standing for restitution, and we took a look at the collection notice.
The notice was from a collections firm called Omega RMS, based in Kansas City, Mo. The letter appeared to be a legit collections notice — except that it said it was collecting for “Vacation Network Inc./Dreamworks Annual Dues.”
Vacation Network wasn’t one of the known Turner companies.
We looked further.
Vacation Network is based in Duluth, Ga., has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, while the collections firm has a C- with BBB — not unusual for companies of that type.
We reached out to both firms to learn more.
Neither called us back, but shortly after we left a message, Vacation Network’s general manager, Teddy Kavadas, called Rizzo.
Kavadas sent us a copy of the email he was sending to Rizzo, which reiterated that Rizzo didn’t owe any money. He also explained that his company recently switched to a new collection company — Omega — which accidentally sent notices to holders of closed accounts instead of only to the active ones.
Kavadas said the company’s relationship with Dreamworks only lasted about four months in 2008.
“[Vacation Network] offers fulfillment services and we provided those services to Dreamworks for a only short period of time due to some of the feedback we were hearing from their customers as well as Dreamworks not fulfilling their financial obligations,” he wrote. “We severed the relationship with Dreamworks in June 2008.”
Glad that part of the story was solved quickly.
WHAT ABOUT THAT RESTITUTION?
That same day, Rizzo said he received a call from Criminal Justice — the part of the Attorney General’s office that handled the criminal case against Turner.
Rizzo said he unleashed much of his frustration on the rep, who asked some questions and said she was looking further into the case. She would call back, Rizzo said he was told.
While we waited, we heard from yet another Turner customer who was expecting restitution but hadn’t received a check yet.
Glenn Gligor of Marlton paid $3,602 to Travel Deals in 2011, and he received the letter from the state in the summer saying he’d get restitution, records show. He had also been in touch with a detective in the case, who told Gligor he should receive his check by the end of the year, Gligor said.
But when he saw our last story, which said that Burlington County said all the checks had been mailed, he wanted to know why he hadn’t received anything.
He made many calls but received no answers, he said, so he contacted Bamboozled for help.
We asked the state to look into Gligor’s case, too.
Very quickly, Gligor received a call from the detective, who said he was called by the state. There had been some confusion about the payments, Gligor said he was told, and the detective told him to contact the finance officer at Burlington County.
Gligor said he did, leaving a message, and he quickly got a call back.
“[The finance officer] indicated that the reason I had not received a check was that they had no positive confirmation of a valid address for me?? I said the letter was mailed to my home address back in July so they must have had an address on file,” Gligor said of the phone call. “I am not sure what constitutes a valid address since I have been living at the same address for the past 25 years.”
The finance officer asked Gligor to send a copy of his driver’s license and a letter detailing his status, Gligor said.
“He said they did still have funds set aside and that checks only get cut out once a month so the date of the next check mailing would be Feb 5, 2015,” Gligor said.
We checked back with the court in Burlington County for clarification.
A spokesman explained that when it sent the restitution checks late last year, approximately 50 were returned for a bad address. That money is still being held for specific victims, and if they call the finance division at (609) 518 2634, the court can report if money is being held in someone’s name. When a correct address is presented, the court would re-mail the check, the spokesman said.
The court was unable to explain why some of the addresses were wrong, even if they were the same addresses to which the Attorney General’s office successfully sent the restitution notification letters.
Interestingly, the court said it received another $100 in restitution from Turner’s wife, Robyn Bernstein, but it can’t send additional funds to victims until it has collected enough for at least $5 to go to each restitution recipient.
On Friday afternoon, Rizzo received two calls from different people from the Attorney General’s office.
“[The rep] apologized and they are sending me a check for $1,500 to be delivered personally to me today,” Rizzo said.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s office confirmed the someone from that office would deliver the check.
“The check represents the pro-rated restitution amount that Mr. Rizzo would have received, had he been correctly placed on the court’s restitution list. He was not placed on that list due to an error by a state investigator,” the spokesman said.
He said his office has apologized to Rizzo over the phone, “and we apologize again for the error that prevented him from receiving restitution from the court in a timely manner. We will work with the court to ensure that Mr. Rizzo is included in any future distributions of restitution funds that the court may obtain from the defendants.”
We’re grateful that the Attorney General’s office resolved this for Rizzo.
But really, between a variety of state agencies and Burlington County, how many fiery hoops needed to be jumped through to get this guy an answer?
Dear readers, if you think you were on the restitution list but you haven’t received a check, contact the Burlington County Superior Court and ask to speak to the finance division.
And if something doesn’t sound right, contact Bamboozled. We’ll help to you get answers.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.