Bamboozled: Money coming to travel victims won’t be much

Hundreds of customers who paid money into a fraudulent travel club scheme will finally get BB brandingsome money back.

But it’s likely to be only pennies, or maybe nickels, on the dollar.

Back in January, Daryl Turner was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree theft by deception for duping approximately 770 customers into paying for memberships in his phony travel clubs. Turner’s wife, Robyn Bernstein, received five years probation.

The state said Turner’s and Bernstein’s companies—which included Dreamworks Vacation Club, Bentley Travel, Modern Destinations Unlimited, Blue Water Gateway, Five Points Travel Company, La Bonne Vie Travel and Vacation Clubs LLC—offered discount vacations to exotic locations. But after collecting membership fees, the company would shut down without giving customers the trips they were promised. They’d open a new scam travel club in another location and under another name, the state said, and start all over again.

Turner and Bernstein had faced charges including money laundering that could have lead to 20 years in prison and fines exceeding $1 million each if convicted.

As part of a plea deal, the couple agreed to shell out more than $2.5 million in restitution to customers.

Turner and Bernstein had faced charges including money laundering that could have lead to 20 years in prison and fines exceeding $1 million each if convicted.

As part of a plea deal, the couple agreed to shell out more than $2.5 million in restitution to customers.

But the state’s sale of the couple’s assets hasn’t even netted a third of that amount.

“Treasury has accumulated a total of $770,000 in monies from assets and auctioned assets,” said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office.

The couple’s Marlton home, which public records show was worth more than $750,000 when it was seized by the state in 2011, sold for $450,000 at auction, the state said. The closing for the sale was Aug. 25.

The $770,000 total includes money received for the sale of other assets, which include: a 2007 Bentley that sold for $76,000; a 2001 Ferrari that sold for $59,000; a 2011 Range Rover that sold for $57,0bb sept 1800; and a Scarab Excel speedboat that went for $23,000.

Aseltine said the funds have been transferred to the AG’s office, and the AG will transfer the money to the Burlington County probation office, which will start the process of disbursing the funds to Turner’s victims in “the next couple of weeks.”

Aseltine said Turner and Bernstein are responsible for the remaining balance of roughly $1.8 million, and a civil judgment has been recorded against them.

“They will have to make payments to probation/corrections while they are under supervision,” Aseltine said. “If they ever attempt to sell real estate in the state, or win the lottery, etc. they will have to satisfy the judgment before they can collect any money.”

Turner customers say they’re disappointed that there’s only $770,000 available for restitution payments.

Andy Rizzo paid $5,200 to join Dreamworks Vacation Club in 2008 or 2009, he said. The day after he joined, Rizzo said, he tried to cancel the membership under a New Jersey law that allows consumers to change their mind within three days of signing a contract.

But Dreamworks told him there was no three-day right of rescission in the state, Rizzo said, and none of his disputes got anywhere.

Now, years later, Rizzo said he is disappointed with the amount of money the state has secured for Turner’s victims.

“I’ve been robbed,” he said. “I’m really discouraged and I hope it’s not one of those procedures where they say you’ll get 25 cents on the dollar and I get a miniscule amount. I’m really hoping for thousands.”

Alyssa Geibel of Somerville paid one of Turner’s companies $608 to cover taxes and fees on a so-called free cruise that never materialized.

“I hope that at least we can get a percentage—I hope that everybody gets a percentage—if not everything that we paid,” she said. “People may have to wait for him to get out of jail, get a job—it won’t be for another 10 years until people get paid back. That doesn’t sound right or good.”

Now Geibel, Rizzo and hundreds of other customers are waiting to see how much will be returned to them.

We’ll keep you posted.

bb sept 18 02

 

 

 

 

ALLEGED BILL PAY SCAMMER OUT ON BAIL

An Essex County judge denied the state’s request to revoke bail for Germaine Theodore, the man accused of running two companies that promised customers it would pay their bills at a discount.

Theodore was out on $250,000 bail for a theft by deception charge
related to his bill pay operation in Maplewood —TGC Movement
— when he was picked up in Jersey City on similar allegations.

In the Jersey City case, the state accused Theodore — and his company Save My Future — of pledging to discount and pay bills on behalf of its customers, but instead pocketing the money. Theodore faces 14 counts of theft by deception and was granted $70,000 bail with a 10 percent option.

Before Theodore was released on bail in the Jersey City case, the state tried to go back to the Essex County judge in the Maplewood case with a motion to revoke Theodore’s bail for the first alleged crime.

But that hearing was delayed, and Theodore was released on bail in Hudson County on Aug. 28.

Then earlier this month, Essex County Judge Robert Gardner denied the state’s motion to revoke bail.

Requests to the court for additional information went unanswered, and Theodore remains free.

“We are concerned that Germaine Theodore remains free on bail and we are looking at our options to ensure that he cannot prey on any additional victims,” a state spokesman said. “We continue to urge any existing victims to contact the Jersey City police department.”

Indeed.

Theodore’s accusers are also concerned, they said.

“For a judge not to revoke the bail—the whole point of him being out on bail is because he said he would not get involved in this type of criminal activity. And for him to do it again?” said Lizzette Britt, who is one of the more than 80 Save My Future customers who have complained to Jersey City police. She said she gave Theodore more than $5,200 for bills that were never paid.

“He’s out living his life, eating and drinking, when you still have people struggling from him stealing their money. I’m baffled at this point,” Britt said.

If you’ve done business with Theodore’s bill pay companies, the authorities ask that you contact Jersey City police.

Have you been Bamboozled? Contact Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com

 

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