Execs of timeshare fraud firm face federal charges
The leaders of a New Jersey-based timeshare fraud company that recently announced an expansion into North Charleston are facing a host of federal charges involving timeshare mortgages through a separate firm they operated.
Federal officials in April charged 16 people, including VO Financial Corp. CEO Adam Lacerda, also known as Robert Klein, and his wife, Ashley Lacerda, for their roles in a $2.6 million scheme to defraud more than 200 timeshare owners through a former company they operated called Vacation Ownership Group, or VO Group LLC, according to the U.S. District Attorneys Office in New Jersey.
The Lacerdas are charged with wire and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In addition, the Lacerdas and a former employee are charged with mail fraud for obtaining jobless benefits while working for VO Group, according to the indictment.
VO Financial announced last week that it is opening a 60-person office in North Charleston to help people “who had debt accrue through deceptive practices of their timeshare developer.”
VO Financial Corp. was formed in April, according to New Jersey state records.
VO Group LLC is no longer in business, according to VO Financial attorney Josh Gayl. He said the company was in the process of restructuring under the new name before the indictments were handed down.
Gayl said the Lacerdas are “aggressively defending” the pending charges, and most of the other people named in the indictment were independent contractors who no longer work for the company.
Gayl said the company continues to operate because charges were filed against its operators and not the business.
Eleven of the defendants, including the Lacerdas, charged in April are from New Jersey. Two others, Alfred Giordano of Horry County and Aimee Allen of Little River, are from South Carolina. Others are from Florida, Virginia and the Virgin Islands.
“The trickery described in these complaints underscores the lengths to which people can go to swindle their unsuspecting victims,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gil Childers said after the arrests in April. “That the victims in many cases were elderly makes these alleged crimes particularly offensive.”
Law enforcement officers began investigating VO Group LLC in July 2010 and found that from March 2009 to Sept. 1, 2011, the defendants, through VO Group, participated in a fraud scheme, often using false identities, to call owners of timeshare properties purchased from Flagship Resort Development, Wyndham Vacation Resorts Inc. and other timeshare developers, according to the federal indictment.
They convinced the owners in some cases to submit money to the VO Group, purportedly to pay off the owners’ mortgages on their vacation units, the complaint states.
The VO Group claimed that the timeshare owner could pay off the mortgage balance at a substantially reduced amount — often as much as 50 percent of the amount of the original mortgage — by mailing payment to the VO Group at a post office box in Pleasantville, N.J., according to federal investigators.
“The VO Group representatives also got timeshare owners to send the VO Group money purportedly to have timeshares canceled or sold. After receipt of payments for the VO Group’s service, the conspirators caused those payments to be deposited into a bank account in the name of the VO Group,” the federal complaint states.
“Rather than paying off the timeshare owner’s mortgage, canceling the owner’s timeshare or selling the timeshare, the conspirators used the timeshare owner’s money for their personal use,” the complaint alleges.
If convicted of wire and mail fraud or conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each charge. The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.