While state authorities are trying to get Daryl Turner to return millions of dollars to customers of his 11 fraudulent travel businesses, the state is also negotiating with credit card companies, requesting the lenders issue chargebacks – credit card refunds – for consumers who used plastic to pay for travel services they never received.
After some foot-dragging, one credit card company has done the right thing for a customer brought to its attention by Bamboozled.
But first, the latest on Turner.
Turner, according to the state, ran bogus travel companies, collecting fees from customers who were never provided promised vacation services. In February 2011, Turner signed a settlement with the Division of Consumer Affairs, agreeing to pay $2.2 in restitution. He was also barred from working in the travel business for at least five years.
But earlier this month the state filed another action, this time alleging Turner is working with a new company – Travel Deals – which is registered in Turner’s wife’s name and has strikingly similar business methods as Turner’s defunct companies.
That was followed by another hearing in which the state claimed Turner violated the February settlement by working with Travel Deals and by crying poverty despite proof that Turner owns several luxury cars that were parked in the driveway of his Cherry Hill home.
Turner’s attorney Richard Gallucci told Judge Deanna Wilson that Turner has worked as a consultant for Travel Deals, and the attorney asked for clarification of the settlement, which enjoined Turner from “owning and/or operating” a travel company.
The clarification came from the judge last week in a new order that said Turner may not work in the travel business in any capacity. The order said if Turner does not comply, the judge will issue a bench warrant for his arrest.
In the meantime, complaints about Travel Deals keep coming in and the state hasn’t collected a penny from Turner. Hundreds of customers are still waiting for refunds.
Customers like Robert and Marlene Miller, who signed on with Modern Destinations Unlimited (MDU), one of 11 companies named in the settlement, on Oct. 9, 2009.
The Millers attended an MDU seminar in which they said presenters promised discounted vacations for those who bought memberships to the travel club. They decided to join, charging the $5,394 membership fee on their Chase card.
“The purpose of our purchase was to celebrate my 70th birthday by taking our children and grandchildren on a cruise,” Bob Miller said in an e-mail.
The following day, the Millers called the company to get information on booking a trip. Something didn’t sound right, they said, so the couple called Chase with concerns about MDU’s legitimacy. The charge hadn’t yet posted to their account so it was too soon for a dispute, they were told.
A week later, e-mails sent by the Millers to MDU were not answered, and on Oct. 26, the couple mailed their first of many letters to Chase about the possibility of fraud. Chase temporarily suspended interest charges while it investigated.
Life went on and the couple didn’t hear back from Chase, so they figured it was over. But in March 2010, they received a letter denying the dispute, and interest started accumulating again.
Over the next year, the Millers wrote many more letters to Chase and they complained to their senator and their representative, but nothing happened. They also filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs.
Because they didn’t want to ruin their credit, Bob Miller said, they stayed current on payments to their credit card, paying a total of $2,100 of the charge from MDU.
Miller also stayed current on his contact with Chase.
“We are against them not repaying a proven fraud,’” Miller said.
In April 2011, Chase refunded five months of interest charges – nearly $260 – “as a gesture,” Bob Miller said. But the main charge was still there.
We gave Chase a call, providing the lender with copies of court actions, press releases by the Attorney General’s office and copies of Bamboozled columns detailing the cases. Within a couple of days, the Millers heard from Chase.
“We are being sent a check for the $2,100 we have paid and the rest of the charge is being deleted from our account,” Miller said in an e-mail.
We asked Chase why it changed its mind about the Millers, but it said couldn’t comment on individual consumers out of respect for customer privacy.
Thanks to Chase for doing the right thing for the Millers.
A week later, Bamboozled received an email from a second Chase customer. Jay Schlesinger said he paid Dream Vacations International, another of Turner’s companies, $4,893 for membership in June 2009.
“The next day, we tried to get airline tickets and a variety of things but they couldn’t accommodate us when we wanted to go,” he said.
Three days later Schlesinger said he cancelled his membership via fax, e-mail and certified letter.
When the company finally responded and said he could not cancel, Schlesinger filed complaints with Consumer Affairs, the Federal Trade Commission and disputed the charge with Chase. He even sent Chase a copy of the state’s action against the travel company.
Like the Millers, the dispute was denied.
Schlesinger kept writing to Chase and in Nov. 2009, the lender issued what it called a “courtesy credit” of $1,226 – 25 percent of the disputed amount.
“It is my contention that once it is proved that an organization is a fraud, the banks should protect the public,” he said. “They had all the information to make such a determination and they chose to ignore it.”
We gave Chase another call, and it’s taking a look at the case.
“I am wondering why the state does not make Mr. Turner sell his house, and those three fancy cars found on his driveway, and why this man is still not in jail,” Schlesinger said.
The state is working on it.
“While the credit card companies have been generally reluctant to offer chargebacks to Turner’s victims, our negotiations with the companies on the consumers’ behalf are continuing,” said Thomas Calcagni, acting director of Consumer Affairs. “In the meantime, we are aggressively hunting down every asset held by Turner. One way or another, we are committed to getting money back to those people he and his companies swindled.”
A REFUND GRANTED
Two weeks ago, we told you the story of Shannon Condon, a woman who signed a contract with a real estate management company that promised to help her with a short sale on her home. The contract was signed by Dan Dekleine, a man who does not hold a real estate license or a license to practice law, and therefore cannot legally complete a short sale in New Jersey.
The day our story ran, Condon’s attorney received Condon’s $1,300 refund.
Bamboozled will let you know if something comes of the Department of Banking and Insurance’s investigation into the matter.