TRENTON – A Burlington County man who stole millions of dollars from customers of his vacation travel club companies pleaded guilty to theft today and will face a prison sentence, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced. His wife also pleaded guilty today in the investigation.
Daryl Turner, 41, of Marlton, pleaded guilty today to a charge of second-degree theft by deception before Superior Court Judge Terrence R. Cook in Burlington County. In pleading guilty, Turner admitted that he pitched phony vacation travel membership packages to customers. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to seven years in state prison. He also must enter a consent judgment to pay restitution of approximately $2.6 million to his victims.
Turner’s wife, Robyn Bernstein, 44, who helped run his travel companies, also pleaded guilty today before Cook to theft by deception. The state will recommend that she be sentenced to a term of five years of probation. Under their plea agreements, Turner and Bernstein agreed to forfeit their home in Marlton and other assets seized in the investigation, including various bank accounts. Cook scheduled sentencing for Turner and Bernstein for Jan. 10, 2014.
Deputy Attorney General Mark C. Kurzawa prosecuted the defendants and took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Turner and Bernstein were indicted in April as a result of a criminal investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice, assisted by the U.S. Postal Service and the New Jersey Division of Taxation. The investigation began with a referral from the Division of Consumer Affairs.
“Turner was a master of the slick sales pitch, and he used his powers of deception to steal $2.6 million from customers of his travel companies,” said Hoffman. “This guilty plea serves justice by ensuring that Turner will be sentenced to a substantial prison term. He also is required to pay his victims restitution, which will be funded in part through the forfeiture of his home and other significant assets seized as a result of our investigation.”
“We will continue to work with the Division of Consumer Affairs to protect New Jersey consumers,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “When business operators commit outright fraud and theft, as Turner did, we will aggressively investigate and prosecute them.”
The state’s investigation revealed that Turner and Bernstein falsely promised large discounts and benefits to those who bought vacation packages, which typically cost between $2,200 and $6,500. They knew that the promised discounts and benefits were not available. In addition, they failed to deliver “free” round-trip airline tickets and cruises after customers paid them hundreds of dollars in “fees and surcharges” to qualify for the “free” promotional trips. Turner and Bernstein laundered more than $700,000 in criminal proceeds from the victims through their personal bank accounts and used the money to buy their luxury home in Marlton.
Deputy Attorney General Kurzawa presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Detective Richard Loufik and Analyst Alison Callery conducted the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice. Special Agent William Makar handled the investigation for the Division of Taxation Office of Criminal Investigation. Postal Inspector Thomas Ninan, General Analyst Debra Maiorano and General Analyst Grover Thompson handled the investigation for the Philadelphia Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service under the direction of Inspector-In-Charge Karen V. Higgins.
The state’s investigation revealed that Turner and Bernstein recruited customers using mass postcard mailings that offered recipients a “complimentary cruise for two” and/or “complimentary airfare for two.” When recipients called the toll-free number on the card, they were told they must visit one of defendants’ business locations for a 90-minute presentation, which turned out to be a high-pressure sales pitch to purchase vacation packages. Customers viewed a PowerPoint presentation in a group setting, followed by a private meeting with sales representatives to discuss membership pricing.
The investigation determined that between January 2007 and July 2011, Turner and Bernstein stole from customers through two basic schemes:
- Promotions: All who attended their presentations received gift certificates for the advertised “free” cruise and airfare, whether or not they signed a contract to purchase a vacation package. However, to redeem the certificates, customers had to return a form with personal information and make certain advance payments. For the “free” cruise, customers were required to pay $249 per person that was purportedly for “port charges and government fees.” For the “free” airfare deal, customers were required to pay a deposit of $50 per person to cover purported “fees, taxes and surcharges.” The customers had to pay by money order and send a self-addressed envelope, after which they were mailed a reservation request form. The customers sent in the reservation request forms, but were never able to book the cruises or flights. Investigators traced hundreds of money orders from such promotions totaling $149,349 into bank accounts of Turner and Bernstein.
- Vacation Packages: The other scheme involved the vacation packages. The investigation revealed that Turner and Bernstein induced customers to purchase vacation packages, at costs ranging from approximately $2,200 to $6,500, by promising them unattainable vacation prices and unavailable vacation properties. While Turner and Bernstein marketed travel deals, they were not involved in the actual booking of travel at all. Instead they had a contract with a Georgia-based travel company, which they used to book vacations for his customers. Turner and Bernstein defrauded customers by promising that, with the purchase of the vacation packages, they would receive big discounts on vacations and travel services, and would have access to prime hotels, resorts and condo rentals. In reality, Turner and Bernstein knew that such discounts and benefits were not available through the company that booked vacations for them.
For example, Turner and Bernstein represented that their members would receive 65 percent off cruises and could book condo resort weeks for an average of $490. Nothing approaching those deals was actually offered. Many of the resorts and condos they advertised to customers, including condos in the Disney World Resort, were simply not available through the Georgia travel agency they used. Likewise, Turner and Bernstein distributed brochures advertising that customers who purchased vacation packages would receive 50 percent discounts on hotels, 75 percent discounts on resort accommodations, 50 percent discounts on golf packages, and 40 percent discounts on car rentals. Such large discounts were not available, and the agency they used did not even book golf packages or handle car rentals.
Turner and Bernstein ran three promotion companies: 1. Away We Go Promotions, LLC, 2. Promotions, and 3. Reservations. They operated under the following names: 1. Dreamworks Vacation Club a/k/a Dreamworks Vacations a/k/a Dreamworks; 2. Five Points Travel Company, 3. Vacation Clubs LLC d/b/a La Bonne Vie Travel, 4. Bentley Travel, 5. Blue Water Gateway, 6. Modern Destinations Unlimited, 7. VIP Executives, LLC, and 8. Travel Deals, LLC. Some of the companies were incorporated and had business addresses, including locations in Cherry Hill, Marlton, Parsippany and Manalapan. However, others were not incorporated or registered to do business in New Jersey, and two of the promotion companies, Promotions and Reservations, had only a mail drop box or “virtual office” outside of New Jersey.
In May 2009, the State Division of Consumer Affairs filed its initial civil complaint against Turner and three of his businesses in Superior Court in Morris County. The action arose from the receipt of consumer complaints and a resulting investigation by the Division of Consumer Affairs and the Burlington County Office of Consumer Affairs. Afterwards, the Division identified additional business names used by Turner, and filed amended complaints to include them as defendants. In February 2011, the Division and Turner settled the action, with the filing of a Final Consent Judgment whereby Turner agreed to pay a settlement amount of $3,086,508, which consisted of $2,188,728 in restitution, $478,000 in civil penalties, $375,374 in attorney fees, and $44,406 in investigative costs. The restitution amount represented payments made by 528 of the 676 consumers who had filed complaints with the Division by that time. The settlement also prohibited Turner from working in, owning or operating any travel or vacation club companies in New Jersey for five years.
At the time, Turner represented that he had limited funds or assets to apply to the judgment. Afterwards, the Division of Consumer Affairs discovered that Turner was involved in the operation of Travel Deals, LLC, a company owned by Bernstein which was also selling vacation packages, and that Turner failed to disclose assets, including bank accounts and motor vehicles. In May 2011, the Division filed a Motion to Enforce Litigant’s Rights against Turner, to enforce the settlement terms, which the Court granted. Following the Division’s investigation and receipt of consumer complaints, a civil complaint was filed against Turner, Bernstein, Travel Deals, VIP Executives and Reservations in June 2011 in Superior Court in Burlington County. The Division obtained temporary, then preliminary injunctive relief and, on Jan. 25, 2013, filed a Motion for Final Injunctive and Other Relief. That motion is currently pending. Deputy Attorney General Lorraine K. Rak, Chief of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section in the Division of Law, and Investigator Murat Botas led the civil action and investigation for the Division of Consumer Affairs.
“We hope the criminal convictions will result in the return of money to the consumers whom Turner and Bernstein defrauded,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “We will not hesitate to refer a matter to the criminal authorities in addition to our taking action under the state’s consumer protection laws.”
The Division of Criminal Justice initially arrested Turner on theft charges in July 2011. At the time, detectives executed a search warrant at the offices of Travel Deals in Marlton, and seized various assets of Turner and Bernstein, including three luxury vehicles: a 2011 Range Rover, a 2001 Ferrari, and a 2007 Bentley. The Division of Criminal Justice also filed a lien against their home on Country Lakes Drive in Marlton.
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