|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a Burlington County, N.J., man who stole millions of dollars from customers of his vacation travel club companies was sentenced to state prison today.
Daryl Turner, 42, of Marlton, N.J., was sentenced to seven years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Terrence R. Cook in Burlington County. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 7 to second-degree theft by deception. Turner admitted that he pitched phony vacation travel membership packages to customers. He executed 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, was sentenced today by Judge Cook to five years of probation. She also pleaded guilty on Aug. 7 to theft by deception. Under their plea agreements, Turner and Bernstein agreed to forfeit their home in Marlton and other assets seized in the investigation, including bank accounts, cars and a boat.
Deputy Attorney General Mark C. Kurzawa prosecuted the defendants and handled today’s sentencing hearing for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Turner and Bernstein were indicted in April 2013 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 carried out one fraudulent scheme after another, stealing from hundreds of unsuspecting customers who thought he would make traveling more affordable for them,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Instead, he ruthlessly stole the money they had set aside for their vacations. This sentence puts Turner safely behind bars, where he can no longer deliver his devious sales pitches, and it requires him to pay full restitution to his victims.”
“After law enforcement shut down Turner’s shady travel companies, he opened a new one and went back to his old tricks,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “By sending Turner to prison, we have ended his fraud spree and warned the public that this is not a man you want to trust with your money.”
“We remain committed to getting money back to the consumers who were defrauded, through liquidation of the ill-gotten assets seized from Turner and Bernstein,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “The civil and criminal cases are concluded but we do not consider this matter closed until restitution is in the hands of these consumers.”
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. They laundered more than $700,000 in criminal proceeds through their personal bank accounts and used the money to buy their luxury home in Marlton.
Detective Richard Loufik, Analyst Alison Callery and Deputy Attorney General Kurzawa 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. 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 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 were never able to book the cruises or flights.
- Vacation Packages: In the other scheme, 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 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 they used.
Turner and Bernstein ran three promotion companies: 1. Away We Go Promotions, LLC, 2. Promotions, and 3. Reservations. They used 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.
In May 2009, the 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. 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 represented payments made by 528 of the 676 consumers who had filed complaints with the Division by that time. The settlement prohibited Turner from working in, owning or operating any travel or vacation club companies in New Jersey for five years.
Later, the Division of Consumer Affairs discovered that Turner was involved in operating Travel Deals, LLC, a company owned by Bernstein which also was selling vacation packages, and that Turner had failed to disclose assets, including bank accounts and motor vehicles. In May 2011, the Division filed a motion to enforce the settlement terms, which the court granted. Following the Division’s investigation and receipt of consumer complaints, a new civil complaint was filed against Turner, Bernstein, Travel Deals, VIP Executives and Reservations in June 2011 in Superior Court in Burlington County. On Jan. 10, 2014, the court granted our motion for final injunctive and other relief. 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.
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 a speedboat and several luxury vehicles: a 2011 Range Rover, a 2001 Ferrari, a 2007 Bentley and a 1999 Porsche. The Division of Criminal Justice also filed a lien against their home on Country Lakes Drive in Marlton.