TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A southern New Jersey couple who pitched phony vacation travel membership packages and collected fees for free airfare and cruise deals have been indicted, authorities said Tuesday.
Daryl Turner, 41, and his wife Robyn Bernstein, 43, of Marlton, are charged with conspiracy, money laundering and failing to file income tax returns. The charges carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines.
The couple allegedly laundered $700,000 from close to 1,000 people between January 2007 and July 2011, State Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said.
Authorities said the couple operated eight different companies during that time.
Chiesa said the couple used the money to buy a luxury home in Marlton, which authorities have put a lien on. They also seized their vehicles— a Range Rover, Ferrari and Bentley.
A lawyer for Turner said his client "denies any fraudulent activity." A message left for Bernstein's lawyer was not immediately returned.
Authorities said the couple falsely promised large discounts to those who bought vacation packages that typically cost between $2,200 and $6,500.
They also advertised free cruises and airfares for two, but had each customer pay $300 for various "fees" collecting nearly $150,000 through the scheme.
Turner and Bernstein used mass postcard mailings with a phone number for customers to call. When individuals phoned in, they were told to come in for what authorities called a "high-pressure" 90-minute presentation where they had to fill out forms and later mail in money orders.
Authorities said it was difficult to keep up with the couple because they would open and shut back-to-back businesses quickly.
"It was like a leap frog effect," investigator Richard Loufik said. He said before the pair completely closed an office, they had opened another and taken out a lease for a new office.
Officials said nearly 1,000 complaints have been made by customers and that there could be more.
"Like a pair of old-school con artists, Turner and Bernstein allegedly operated eight different travel companies in a little over four years, closing one company down and opening another in a new location whenever they felt the heat because consumers learned of their fraud," Chiesa said.
The criminal charges come after a civil settlement on the matter in February 2011, where Turner was to pay $3 million.
The terms banned Turner from working in, owning or operating any travel or vacation club companies in New Jersey for five years.
Authorities found he had been running another company after that, and shut it down in July 2011.