Timeshare Owners Re-Victimized By Florida Telemarketer Promising Court Ordered Restitution Checks For An Advanced Fee
Rance White, 25, of West Palm Beach, Florida, was indicted by a federal grand jury in East St. Louis for participating in a "recovery scheme," a scheme to re-victimize timeshare owners who had already been victimized in a timeshare resale fraud, through the false promise of a restitution award, Stephen R. Wigginton, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, announced. The indictment contains a single count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
In a timeshare resale scam, timeshare owners are contacted by someone who claims to have a buyer for the person’s timeshare property. In exchange for an upfront fee (typically in excess of $1,000), the telemarketer promises that the sale will be finalized within a certain period of time and that a check for the sale price (typically in excess of $20,000) will then be delivered to the customer. No sale ever occurs, and the fraudulent company simply pockets the money. Thousands of timeshare owners across the country have fallen victim to this scam.
South Florida is a hotbed for timeshare resale fraud, and in recent years, several major timeshare resale operations located in Palm Beach County, Florida, have been investigated and prosecuted in the Southern District of Illinois, including companies called Universal Marketing Solutions (UMS), Creative Vacation Solutions (CVS), and American Marketing Group (AMG). One of the most publicized of these prosecutions was the case against former CVS CEO Jennifer Kirk: United States v. Kirk, No. 3:11-CR-30093-GPM. Kirk was sentenced to 188 months imprisonment but victims were unable to be made whole, thus creating the opportunity for the instant alleged scam.
Since July 31, 2012, timeshare resale victims across the country have been contacting the United States Attorney’s Office and/or the United States Postal Inspection Service in the Southern District of Illinois to report having been contacted by telephone by someone claiming that they (the victims) were entitled to a restitution award specifically designated for victims of timeshare resale fraud, including victims of UMS, CVS, and AMG. Some victims received email messages after the initial contact by telephone.
The indictment alleges that by way of scam e-mails, from the late summer and fall of 2012, victims were told they were entitled to a settlement in the case of the State of Florida vs. Jennifer Kirk or the State of Florida vs. Jeff George.1 These e-mails also gave the name of an attorney who supposedly works in the “Economic Crimes Division,” of the 15th Circuit Court in Palm Beach County, Florida, and whom the victim is told to contact in order to obtain the promised restitution. The e-mails state that an advance fee, typically several hundred dollars, is required in order to “claim and release your package.” Victims who called the phone number listed were told that the fee needed to be sent via Western Union or MoneyGram.
In August 2012, the indictment alleges, a U.S. Postal Inspector, acting in an undercover capacity on behalf of a victim contacted by the scam, sent undercover funds totaling $129 to pay the requested fees via Western Union from Fairview Heights, Illinois. The first attempt to collect the fees were at a Western Union outlet at a West Palm Beach, Florida Publix grocery store later in the day on August 2, 2012, but the transaction could not be paid out because of an incorrect answer to the test question. The payment was subsequently picked up on August 3, 2012, at a check cashing store in West Palm Beach, Florida. The indictment alleges that Publix maintained photographs of the person who attempted to pick up that fraud transaction as well as a separate Western Union payment at the same store the next day.
If convicted, the defendant is subject to a term of imprisonment of up to 25 years, a fine of $250,000 and five years of supervised release.
The investigation was conducted by the St. Louis Field Office of the Chicago Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Bruce E. Reppert and William E. Coonan.
An indictment is a formal charge against a defendant. Under the law, a defendant is presumed to be innocent of a charge until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to the satisfaction of a jury.