When our story first ran, the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs had received nearly 550 complaints about travel companies run by Daryl Turner, the head of Away We Go.
These companies allegedly promised free or discounted vacations to consumers who agreed to attend a travel seminar. Consumers would then pay for membership to a discount travel club or for discounted vacations, but those vacations never happened, according to the consumers we spoke with and the complaints filed by the state.
After our story ran, the number of complaints jumped to 676.
Consumer Affairs is taking action, asking a judge to amend the state’s suit against Daryl Turner, who they say is the head of the travel companies.
“With the help of you and your column we’ve identified additional entities that we allege are affiliated with Mr. Turner and his predatory business practices,” said Thomas Calcagni, acting director of Consumer Affairs. The original lawsuit, filed in May 2009, was based on 198 consumer complaints and encompassed four travel companies, Calcagni said. This most recent filing is the state’s fifth amended complaint on the matter. If accepted by the judge, the suit would name a total of 12 bogus companies allegedly run by Turner.
The suit currently names Daryl Turner and the following companies: Dreamworks Vacation Club, Dreamworks Vacations, Dreamworks, Bentley Travel, Modern Destinations Unlimited, Blue Water, Five Points Travel Company, La Bonne Vie and Dream Vacations International and Vacation Clubs LLC.
“These new companies appear to be part of his ongoing scheme to lure consumers with unfulfilled promises of vacation packages,” Calcagni said. “As the lawsuit indicates, consumers pay Mr. Turner and his businesses money and in return they get disappointment, aggravation and heartache. No vacation and no refund.”
This new complaint also alleges what Calcagni calls “unconscionable practices,” including selling vacation packages to consumers under one business name, then closing the business without any notice or any forwarding address.
The suit seeks restitution for consumers and to permanently stop Turner from operating any travel business in the state, Calcagni said.
“We’re asking the court to shut him down,” he said.
Bamboozled left messages for Daryl Turner at several 800-numbers associated with Away We Go, but no one returned our calls.
A CLOSER LOOK
After we wrote about Away We Go, we received more than a dozen e-mail messages from consumers who said they’d had similar experiences with one of Daryl Turner’s travel companies.
Joseph Riccardi was one of those consumers.
Riccardi said he was promised a free vacation if he attended an Away We Go seminar in October 2009. After attending, Riccardi decided to join what he thought was a discounted travel club, paying $598 to Away We Go Promotions.
Riccardi said he tried to book his free cruise through the company three separate times, and he was told there was no availability for any of dates he requested.
Because of the scheduling troubles, Riccardi said he asked the company in April 2010 if he could transfer the trip to his son, Frank Riccardi, and to his soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Tracey Della Pesca.
Yes, they were told, so Della Pesca filled out some forms for Away We Go, and she requested an October 2010 trip. She said she was told she’d receive travel paperwork from the company a month before the trip, but by September, Della Pesca said she hadn’t received anything. She called to inquire.
A company rep told Della Pesca that an e-mail had been sent in August, explaining the requested dates were not available.
That’s when they asked for their money back.
In October 2010, Riccardi said a company rep promised he’d receive the refund 15 business days after the year-long promotion period ended, which would have been in late October. No refund check arrived and, Riccardi said, he knew it was a scam.
Now, he wants to make sure the company knows what he thinks, so he calls every single day.
“In the beginning someone would answer, but now I get a voice mail, and every day I leave them a message letting them know I got my mail but there is no refund from them in it,” Riccardi said. “Six-hundred dollars isn’t going to kill me, but it’s wrong.”
The family filed a complaint about the business with Consumer Affairs.
HOPING FOR RESOLUTION
The Riccardi family was glad to hear Away We Go may be added to the state’s lawsuit.
“I honestly think it’s a shame that he’s been able to get away with this,” Tracey Della Pesca said about Daryl Turner. “Who knows? Maybe he’s out there opening up another company and scamming other people.”
She said she’s looking forward to seeing how the case proceeds.
Same for Alyssa Geibel, the first Away We Go victim we featured. She paid $608 to Away We Go in 2009.
“I hope I get my money back or the vacation they promised me in the first place,” she said.
We’ll let you know how the case proceeds.
To file a complaint with Consumer Affairs online, go to state.nj.us/lps/ca/comp.htm or call (973) 504-6200 or (800) 242-5846.