Travel Club Scammers Plead Guilty To Bilking Millions From Consumers

After years of tricking New Jersey residents into paying millions of dollars to bogus “travel clubs,” a husband and wife scammer team have entered guilty pleas, and at least one of them will probably spend a few years behind bars.

In various forms and under a variety of names (Dreamworks Vacation Club, Bentley Travel, Modern Destinations Unlimited, Blue Water Gateway, Five Points Travel Company, La Bonne Vie Travel and Vacation Clubs LLC), the scam basically worked like this — get people into 90-minute sales presentations for the travel clubs with the promise of a free cruise or other perk. Then they’re told the cruise isn’t free; you need to pay hundreds of dollars in fees and taxes. Still, it comes out to less than the full cost of a cruise, so it has to be a good deal, right? Not when the consumer finds out that every date they choose to travel on is a blacked out date.

(This is starting to sound familiar…)

This has been going on since at least 2009 and the scammers even settled with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs in Feb. 2011, agreeing to stop operating these companies and pay $3 million, including $2.2 million in restitution to customers.

But much like the dream vacations promised by these scammy travel clubs, that money never materialized.

And the couple continued on operating the scam after the settlement, with hundreds of people from New Jersey to New Hampshire filing complaints.

So the state filed criminal charges against the couple, alleging money laundering and theft by deception. If they had been convicted of all charges at trial, they could have faced upwards of 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

According to the plea deal, the gruesome twosome entered guilty pleas on second-degree theft by deception. They will be sentenced in a few months, but the plea agreement recommends that the hubby be sentenced to seven years behind bars and pay back $2.6 million to victims. The recommendation for the wife is five years of probation, but she’ll have to find a new place to live, as they have agreed to turn over their $750,000 house and other assets as part of the deal.

“It took long enough time, but justice prevails,” one consumer who lost $3,000 to the scammers tells the Newark Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column. “This guy, his intentions were evil from the start. It’s a shame because there were a lot of people who really thought they were signing on to a great deal.”

You should really check out the archive of related stories on the NJ.com post linked below just to see how long this scam has been going on.

A trip to prison: Travel club scammers plead guilty to stealing millions from customers, restitution promised [NJ.com]