Another Conspirator Sentenced for Orlando, Florida Timeshare Resale Con.

Another Conspirator Sentenced for Orlando, Florida Timeshare Resale Con.

Last summer, we covered a large scale scam where Daniel “Wolf” Boyer paid dozens of co-conspirators to sell fraudulent timeshare resale services to vulnerable owners. While a majority have already pleaded guilty, the investigation presumes. Paul Michael Marciniak is the second primary co-conspirator to receive his sentence. After the group of greedy entrepreneurs he joined fleeced more than a thousand fractional owners for over $3.3 million, you can’t blame consumer protection agencies for doing their due diligence to ensure justice is served. The well-known Florida timeshare resale con is rounding out to be quite the ploy.

How Did the Con Men Pull it Off?

Boyer, Marciniak and their team of con artists solicited timeshare owners with offers to sell their timeshare and remove the financial burden for nearly 2 years. The telemarketing scheme used personal data illegally to contact their victims and aggressively pressured them to quickly hand over thousands of dollars before the interested buyers found another property. 

The problem was, there was never a potential buyer – or any opportunity to sell for that matter. This has come to be known as “the buyer’s pitch.” Everything about the sale funneled towards a limited opportunity that never developed. While this allowed them to bamboozle a lot of people, it didn’t take long for consumers to catch on.

What Eventually Gave the Con Away?

 When assessing timeshare exit companies, it’s always best to initially examine public business information. With scams, you’ll often find noticeable inconsistencies, mirages and even duplicate information. That’s right, some people actually use the names of legitimate businesses to operate the fraud. Some end up using multiple aliases as a way to continue defrauding consumers. While a Florida timeshare resale con like this may seem valid at first glance, a little bit of research can go a long way. Unfortunately, tons of people didn’t catch this glitch.

Boyer and Marciniak’s operation was ironically listed under a number of business aliases that include: First Capital Financial Services Corp, Beneficial Business Solutions, Holiday Advertising, Vacation Funding Partners LP, Great West Funding and Property, People, Travel. In order to use these company names, accomplices scoured the internet for inactive businesses that were once licensed to operate in different states. 

This allowed them to purchase and promote the entities as their own, across the entire country. By using old company information and reviews, they were able to build trust with unhappy timeshare owners. They even went as far as buying local phone numbers so those they solicited wouldn’t be caught off guard. 

While it may have seemed like Boyer and Marciniak had sustained businesses nationwide, they were actually running a ghost scheme from their headquarters in Orlando, Florida. The Florida timeshare resale con was even renting interim office spaces and using false identities to carry out the misconduct. But the paper trail eventually caught up to them in the long run.

Marciniak Pleads Guilty, Joins 17 Others in Prison.

So far, 20 people have been charged for pleading guilty to mail and wire fraud. Paul Michael Marciniak, who has now been deemed as one of the main suspects, will spend 5 years and 10 months in federal prison for his selfish decisions. Aside from handing over $3.37 million as a restitution payment to the victimized timeshare owners, he’ll also receive 3 years of supervised release. Now that Paul’s involvement has officially earned him jail time, only three co-conspirators are waiting for their sentence.

The Acadia Village Resort is Leasing Back Timeshare Intervals From the City of Ellsworth.

The Acadia Village Resort is Leasing Back Timeshare Intervals From the City of Ellsworth.

When vacation owners walk away from resort obligations or legally cancel the contract altogether, most don’t realize the impact it has on the city in which the interval is hosted. A number of towns across our country have suffered from the inadequacies of timeshare travel. In recent years, the Acadia Village Resort, a once coveted property that’s located just south of Graham Lake in Maine, has not only struggled to retain timeshare owners, but attract them as well. This has caused the city of Ellsworth to seriously consider chasing timeshare companies out of town. 

Timeshares Can Make or Break the Economy in Small Towns.

But before explaining their reasoning or what’s been proposed, we have to understand how bad business by timeshare companies can handicap an economy. When it comes to The Acadia Village’s timeshare structure, each week (interval) that’s sold for every condo is considered its own individual property. Since the resort was constructed with 39 timeshare units, that means there are over 2,000 available weekly intervals. Each of which comes with their own tax bills and deeds. When these aren’t filled or being fulfilled, municipalities are left with years of unpaid taxes. 

In Ellsworth, city officials have been facing hundreds of foreclosures after acting as realtors just to acquire the abandoned, dwindling timeshare units. They’re tired of cleaning up the mess and simply want to revitalize tourism in the area by providing travelers with quality lodging that makes sense. “We own upwards of 300 timeshare units,” said City Manager David Cole. “This is not our business to be in. We’ve found ourselves marketing them on the city website and the scroll. We’re trying to figure out ways to move these units. The primary objective is getting them back on the tax rolls.” Now that they have a little leverage in the situation, the city is contemplating what to do with it.

The Community Wants to Get it Right.

In their most recent meeting, the city’s councilors listened to a number of testimonies by some of the resort’s owners and staff. Here, they confirmed they can’t hold dissatisfied timeshare owners responsible when they feel as though they’ve been scammed. So, they wanted to figure out how everyone could win. Even though the city of Ellsworth could have easily implemented an ordinance that held the timeshare company liable for the tax burden, they unanimously approved a plan to lease the foreclosed units back to Acadia Village in exchange for an agreed share of profits. 

While the community thinks the Resort is holding the town back, they believe Acadia Village can help them get tourists back so the bustling economy returns. “You’d still be engaging in the foreclosure process; the management of the units, however, would still be transferred over to Acadia Village,” says John Hamer, the attorney representing Ellsworth. 

He continued, “If one of the units were to be sublet, Acadia Village would keep 25 percent of the proceeds while the rest would be remitted to the city. That split would be “50/50 in the case of a sale,” he said. “This would be a long-term type of lease to see whether Acadia Village is able to do better marketing, perhaps, than the city. It’s the marketing effort that’s most important to the city.” Since city officials aren’t equipped to successfully market the weekly intervals, they’re counting on the timeshare resort to step up their game.

“If they’re able to collect enough taxes, enough money to cover all the taxes, then everyone’s happy, the taxes are paid,” said Hamer. “Unfortunately, if there’s a case where they’re not able to collect the total amount of taxes due for all the timeshare units, the managing entity would be required to make up the difference.” We’ll keep you posted on how it all plays out. But if history continues to repeat itself, the city of Ellsworth could be in a worse position than when they started. Sounds an awful lot like most fractional owners.

Default Resort Leader Embezzled Timeshare Owners for $2 Million.

Default Resort Leader Embezzled Timeshare Owners for $2 Million.

Over the years, one might say that timeshare travel has gotten a little out of control. Because regulations weren’t an initial priority, many resorts operated at their own will. Perpetual agreements not only give hospitality conglomerates total control, but it also empowers the little guy too. When greed drives the organization, consumers usually pay the price. We know because we’ve helped hundreds of embezzled timeshare owners. This was especially true at the Caribbean Service Group (CSG), starting back in 2009 when the original owner passed away. 

The timeshare company, which was located in Georgia, was responsible for managing The Woodbourne Estates Resort in Freeport, Bahamas. Since the deceased owner had no concrete plans for his exit, CSG’s operation was held up in probate. After spending the previous 6 years with the company, Katherine Tice Craig, a close employee of the late owner, took it upon herself to begin managing the day to day activities of the business. While her initiative may have drawn admiration at first, her ambition was eventually exposed.

How Resort Manager Embezzled Timeshare Owner Funds.

By early 2012, Craig, also known as Kathy Tice, had fully immersed herself in a leadership role with the Caribbean timeshare retailer. After getting rather comfortable as the head honcho, the U.S. Attorney Pak claims she began embezzling money from the business for herself. For the next 7 years, Katherine went on to steal an excess of $2 million from more than 1,000 of her employer’s customers without blinking twice.

Like many scam artists in the timeshare realm, Craig used a variety of techniques to line her pockets. “Most of these victims were elderly,” said Attorney Byung Pak. Targeting vulnerable users increased her chances. Investigators found that Craig had deposited more than $1.2 million of GSC’s profits into her own bank account and even wrote over $300K in company checks to pay off her credit cards. But the misconduct didn’t only involve simple reallocations. Craig also contacted several timeshare owners and talked them into paying cash instead of writing checks. This allowed her to skim another $450K from the business. 

“She allegedly collected and spent the fees owed to the company on gambling and trips for herself,” said Pak. Some of the purchases included large quantities of lottery tickets and numerous stops at a Biloxi, Mississippi Casino called The Beau Rivage. Rather than focusing on honoring her paying guests and managing the resort efficiently, Craig decided embezzling the money for these types of guilty pleasures was a better idea.

Covering Up the Timeshare Embezzlement.

In order to make up for the stolen money, Katherine eventually began participating in unethical attempts to cut costs. Aside from avoiding casualty insurance (a requirement of the lease agreements she sold), Craig also refused to maintain the property. After years of neglect, mother nature ran its course and the resort began to fall apart. By December of 2015, she made the decision to halt all financial support. 

At this point, The Woodbourne Estates Resort was in such bad shape that timeshare owners weren’t even allowed to visit the property anymore. But Craig continued billing them, adding excessive maintenance fees to their tabs. When owners refused to pay because availability didn’t exist, she threatened to send them to collections. In the meantime, she approved multiple transfers, continued avoiding insurance and even recruited new owners with false promises.

Craig Has Yet to Be Charged for Mail Fraud.

After Craig was arraigned on federal charges of mail fraud, she was indicted by a federal grand jury on January 7th of this year. U.S. Magistrate Judge Justin S. Arnold will oversee the case and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has also taken an interest. The inspector-in-charge, David McGinnis, had this to say about the indictment. “[We take] great pride in protecting the American public, especially our vulnerable older Americans. Those seeking to defraud and take advantage of our postal customers should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable.” 

Hopefully this type of criminal activity within the timeshare marketplace ends soon. Until then, take the time to research your rights and the companies you do business with so you can avoid scams in the timeshare industry.

$18 Million in Timeshare Resale Fees Stolen From Vacation Owners

$18 Million in Timeshare Resale Fees Stolen From Vacation Owners

If you’re a frustrated timeshare owner, then you’re probably looking for a way to get out of the contract. At the same time, it can be hard to know where to turn for relief. While competent timeshare cancellation companies exist, the public narrative of the exit industry can be deterring. Because of this, desperate vacation owners eagerly pay timeshare resale fees instead. It’s an easy decision when they don’t know the resale market doesn’t exist and they’re led to believe they can actually recoup some of their losses.

Corrine Adams, an 83 years old widow, learned this the hard way. After purchasing a Hawaiian interval with her husband nearly 30 years prior, she decided it was time to move on from the expensive purchase. Her primary reason was the increased cost of maintenance fees. Once she hadn’t been able to travel to the resort for a few years, she grew tired of the unnecessary expense and didn’t want her kids to acquire the burden.

What Convinced Her Resale Was a Viable Option?

Shortly after this realization, she was contacted by a saleswoman from a company called Pro Timeshare Resale. During the phone conversation, the reseller told Corrine that they had a bundle of buyers willing to buy her the property in Hawaii. All she had to do was make a payment that was just over $1500 to get started. From here, Pro Timeshare would engage with one of the potential buyers and process the paperwork for the sale.

Since Mrs. Adams was led to believe the transaction was that simple, she proceeded with the payment. But it wasn’t that simple at all. Over the course of two years, the senior citizen spent $10K on timeshare resale fees without even the slightest scent of a sale. At that point, she became extremely suspicious and began looking into restitution through the FTC. She eventually became a key witness in the consumer protection agency’s lawsuit against Pro Timeshare Resale in 2016.

Brian McDowell, an attorney and partner at Holland and Knight, was a major participant in the FTC’s action against the fraudulent reseller. During the trial, he acknowledged, “It is virtually impossible to sell most timeshares for the price you paid.” But Corrine had no idea they were defrauding her. “They were so persuasive; they always had someone about to sign. Every few months they’d come back saying they needed a little more time, and more money,” she said.

Phony Timeshare Resale Fees Result in Legal Settlement.

Luckily for Corrine, she wasn’t the only vacation owner paying timeshare resale fees to the phony reseller. The FTC found that thousands of disgruntled buyers had processed over $18 million dollars worth of transactions. None of which actually sold their timeshare, leading Pro Timeshare to eventually settle. The FTC began issuing limited refunds in late 2019.

Unethical Timeshare Resellers Are Prevalent Today.

Collecting vague timeshare resale fees has been a common practice for a long time. Crafty con artists know how to drag out the deception and maximize earnings. What may seem like a measly investment can turn into tens of thousands of dollars lost as the scam unfolds. We recently did a story on an Arizona realtor who lost everything chasing the sale. The BBB in St. Louis found a ton of resale deceit in Springfield, Missouri alone. “These companies know there is a vulnerable population of people to prey upon,” says the BBB’s CEO, Michelle Corey.

What seems to be the culprit is unexpected timeshare costs coupled with usability issues. Some timeshare maintenance fees in Las Vegas have even reportedly exceeded $2K in recent months. “As these properties age, the costs of maintaining them go up,” said another attorney involved in the case. The demand for relief is real. But the consumer’s ability to find it is as difficult as ever. The idea of paying a few thousand dollars in timeshare resale fees in order to walk away from annual fees is worth it to most. At least initially. 

In the end, we hope Corrine’s story helps unhappy owners avoid similar mistakes.

Woman Requests Timeshare Exit Refund After Deciding to Keep Condo.

Woman Requests Timeshare Exit Refund After Deciding to Keep Condo.

When it comes to vacation ownership, many people periodically enjoy their weekly interval before growing tired of its limitations. Whether this be booking concerns or boredom with the resort’s destination, it’s difficult for consumers to see the value once the initial euphoria wears off. Gisele Cabrera, a divorced mother of two, is one of these buyers. After making the purchase back in 2001 for a measly $13K, she was very pleased with the overall experience. Despite her satisfaction, she found herself asking for a timeshare exit refund from a third party company that persuaded her to offload her timeshare contract.

It’s very rare to see someone pursue cancellation without some sort of complaint. We’ve talked to hundreds of thousands of owners desperate to get out of a timeshare contract. But unlike many vacation owners, Gisele really had no qualms with the timeshare resort. In an interview with 7 News Miami, she even described the travel package as “affordable” because she was able to “swap it [interval] out with other timeshare owners.” So why would she pay thousands of dollars for a cancellation process she’d quickly regret? Like timeshare presentations themselves, the answer lies in the aggressiveness of the sale.

Last year, Gisele had finally paid off her mortgage and the only payment she was facing was for annual maintenance fees. When she signed the contract back in 2001, they were $200. Nineteen years later, she was paying $350. While vacation owners look forward to paying off their loans, many aren’t aware that annual fees never cease. In Gisele’s case, she was still looking at a $3500 additional expense over the next 10 years. This doesn’t include the possibility of a special assessment either. But it wasn’t the resort that explained this to her.

Third Parties Prey on Vulnerable Timeshare Owners.

Shortly after eliminating mortgage payments, Gisele was asked to attend a “meeting” regarding her timeshare. During the presentation, she was informed that maintenance fees were beginning to skyrocket and that she should be concerned. After the scare tactic elicited fear from the single mother, she recalls telling the salesman, “Maybe I can’t afford that.” This is all the presenter needed to hear. At this point, she was reassured that getting rid of the expense for good with their company was in her best interest.

At first, Gisele was hesitant to hand over $4K to cancel something that might eventually exceed her budget. But once the company told her the offer was only good for that day, she took the bait. She was extremely worried that this was her only chance to avoid a potential pitfall that could leave her handicapped financially. Unfortunately this is how many consumers are duped in the timeshare industry. The simple fact that Gisele wasn’t looking to cancel and still agreed to do so goes to show how compellingly convincing timeshare exit companies can be.

Changing Her Mind and Asking for Timeshare Exit Refund Was Still Costly.

A few days after her decision, Gisele concluded she had made a mistake. So she called the salesman to ask for the timeshare exit refund. But it wasn’t that simple. VOI Consulting Group, who seemingly has a good reputation online, responded by telling their client it was too late to change her mind. She recalls pleading with them saying, “I am not agreeing with this decision that I did. I don’t wanna do it.” Since her credit card was processed days prior to her outreach, she was certain a refund was attainable. “They have to charge me $4,000 for nothing? I don’t think that is fair,” she said. Unfortunately, her contract gave her no option to back out.

Eduardo Balderas, owner of VOI, told reporters that the company takes a lot of pride in their work and that their lawyer had already drawn up the paperwork. Aside from legal “costs,” he also stated they had paid for merchant fees, marketing and the sales team’s commission. All within a few days. Long story short, they had no intention of giving Ms. Cabrera any type of timeshare exit refund. 

This forced Gisele to work with the local news to mediate the situation. Since she didn’t actually go through with the deal or even start the cancellation process, VOI was talked into refunding the remaining balance they had yet to spend. While this was only $1,592, Gisele gladly took it.

The Negative Narrative on Timeshare Exit Companies Continues.

We’ll never know how much of that $4K+ actually was spent, but this story should be a fair warning to all timeshare owners. Nearly everything pitched within the industry is misleading. A lot of the sales lingo and product offerings are geared towards possibilities. If you’re going to listen to a pitch, then you have to be willing to question the information and research the company making the offer. If you’re unable to find conclusive evidence that the promised services are valid – or you are being solicited with aggressive sales tactics – then it’s always best to walk away

At VOC we believe in making sense of all the noise that’s spewed by the industry in order to help educate fractional owners. We do not believe in utilizing standard timeshare practices such as soliciting unsuspecting buyers or engaging in aggressive sales tactics like “today only deals” to acquire a new client. Unfortunately, many exit services give the industry a bad rap by mirroring these distasteful and unethical techniques of the timeshare industry. 

We are simply here to serve those seeking assistance with unresolved timeshare complaints. Timeshare cancellation should be an owner’s last resort and only pursued after they’ve exhausted all viable options. If you’d like to learn more about our attorney based process, you can schedule a free consultation at any time.

Marriott Vacation Club Class Action Lawsuit Claims Buyers Were Defrauded

Marriott Vacation Club Class Action Lawsuit Claims Buyers Were Defrauded

In recent years, the successful litigation of major timeshare resorts has really opened the eyes of many consumers. But as fractional owners increasingly voice their displeasure with the way the purchase plays out, resorts continue to find new ways to retain their users and find new buyers. While one might assume timeshares have altered their strategy to better satisfy customers and keep up with travel trends, it couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, they’ve simply altered the product itself to better benefit themselves. One of the first cases to confirm this pivot was a Marriott Vacation Club class action lawsuit in 2016.

Despite the need to create a more appealing product, we have to go back to the real estate market crash to really understand the depth of Marriott’s alleged deceit in this case. This period of time left the hotel chain with an inventory full of foreclosed and unused condos throughout the country that they needed to get rid of. Since the market was scarce and many current owners wanted to get out of contracts, Marriott adopted a points program that promised beneficial interest and land trusts to potential buyers. The problem was, a Florida company named First American Trust was the actual trustee of the land that held all of the timeshare properties.

Why this Timeshare Lawsuit has a Strong Case.

Despite only being able to offer licensing to use the timeshare properties (because they were owned by affiliate businesses), Marriott told potential buyers they could purchase a title that included interest in a land trust. In reality, the new points program simply gave “owners” access to condos that were held in the land trust. Throughout all marketing efforts, Marriott placed value on owning more points to gain even more access. This led buyers to believe the opportunity was valuable. By positioning the product this way, Marriott was able to not only charge buyers for points programs, but also closing costs, title policy premiums, real estate tax and recording fees. 

Over the course of the buyer’s ownership experience, it appears Marriott did a poor job of providing transparency regarding the purchase. Although the points program wasn’t “illegal” itself, Marriott should have never charged buyers for something they’d never be able to acquire. After the purchase, members of the lawsuit claim they never really understood what they paid for. Even the ownership percentage of their trust fluctuated on a daily basis. 

While Marriott was able to manipulate the system for quite some time, buyers eventually grew tired of the lack of disclosure. They decided that filing the Marriott Vacation Club class action lawsuit was the only way they could escape the scheme. Amongst a plethora of complicated evidence against the hotel chain, allegations essentially stemmed from the initial point of sale.

More Details on the Marriott Vacation Club Lawsuit.

While it became apparent that the complainants, buyers, had definitely been misled by Marriott, additional parties involved also administered misconduct. After an investigation, it was found that the former Orange County Comptroller, Martha Haynie, accepted and filed deeds that didn’t exist. This is what led buyers to believe title costs were valid. Because of this, she was also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit. First American Title’s role started when they charged Marriott to write title insurance policies without any type of legal title documentation. 

Selling this type of product and going extra lengths to attempt validation is usually considered criminal activity. It’s why the Marriott Vacation Club class action lawsuit didn’t have to focus on much outside of Florida law violations. While it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, Marriott and those involved in the transaction faced racketeering charges. 

Over the years, it’s been proven that some timeshare companies will do nearly anything to recoup losses. Participating in questionable sales tactics is how many have been able to remain afloat for so long. Hundreds of thousands of vacation owners have been told one thing and sold another. It’s why we’ve made it a priority to help you understand the traps of the timeshare trade. 

This Marriott Vacation Club class action lawsuit should tell you that even the most prominent resorts may have something up their sleeve. So be careful what you’re signing up for and always confirm the terms.

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