Three Former Employees of Timeshare Consulting Firm Admit Conspiring to Defraud Timeshare Owners
|U.S. Attorney’s Office May 09, 2013|
CAMDEN, NJ—Three former employees of The Vacation Ownership Group LLC admitted to conspiring to defraud owners of timeshare properties by offering phony consulting services, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced. One of the defendants also admitted to illegally collecting unemployment benefits.
Jeffrey Sawyer, 50, of Mullica Hill, New Jersey, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Court Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden federal court to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
Steven Cox, a/k/a “Steve Coluzzi,” 49, of Ventnor, New Jersey, pleaded guilty on May 7, 2013, before Judge Hillman to a superseding information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
Eric K. Reiff, a/k/a “Skip,” a/k/a “Skip Ray,” 41, of Ocean City, New Jersey, pleaded guilty on May 1, 2013, before Judge Hillman to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of wire fraud.
According to documents filed in these cases and statements made in court:
The Vacation Ownership Group, a/k/a VO Group LLC, had offices in Mays Landing and Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, and claimed to offer consulting services to owners of timeshares, including cancelling, purchasing, and upgrading the timeshares.
In 2010, the four defendants started working at the VO Group and were trained by VO Group managers to call customers using prepared scripts. The defendants each called customers and gave the customers the false impression that they were working for a bank or lending institution. After hearing defendants’ false representations, some customers sent checks to the VO Group. Reiff falsely told an individual with the initials “SK” that SK could settle all of SK’s timeshare debt for a “one time” price and induced SK to send a check for $21,328.28 to the VO Group. Cox told “NP” that NP could settle his timeshare debt for a large discount by mailing a $26,585 check to the VO Group. Sawyer pretended to be a satisfied VO Group customer to persuade others to send money to the VO Group. Each defendant admitted causing substantial losses: Sawyer admitted causing more than $70,000 in losses; Reiff admitted causing more than $120,000 in losses; and Cox admitted causing more than $200,000 in losses.
Reiff also admitted to devising a separate scheme to defraud the New Jersey Department of Labor by collecting unemployment compensation benefits while working at the VO Group. Reiff admitted to applying for and being awarded $12,600 in unemployment compensation benefits to which he was not entitled.
On January 23, 2013, co-owners Adam Lacerda and Ashley Lacerda and other members of the VO Group were charged in a superseding indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and other charges. Additional members of the VO Group were also charged by criminal complaint in April 2012. As for the Lacerdas and other defendants who have not been convicted in this case, the charges, and allegations against them are merely accusations, and they are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The mail and wire fraud conspiracy charge to which the three defendants pleaded guilty is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss caused by the offense. The wire fraud charge to which Reiff pleaded guilty is also punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss caused by the offense.
Sentencings are scheduled as follows: Sawyer and Cox, September 27, 2013; Reiff, September 20, 2013.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents from the FBI’s Atlantic City Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford in Newark; and special agents from the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Robert Panella, New York Region, for their roles in the investigation leading to the guilty pleas. He also thanked the New Jersey Department of Labor, Benefit Payment Control Unit, for its assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alyson M. Oswald and R. David Walk, Jr. of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Camden.