New Jersey officials say Dreamworks Vacation Club offered its members only nightmares.
The state announced Thursday that it has sued the company and two others — all owned by Daryl Turner of Cherry Hill. The Division of Consumer Affairs claims the firms lured consumers to presentations with the promise of gift certificates, free vacations and other prizes, pressured them into joining a club that would get them great deals on vacations for the rest of their lives, and then did not follow through on any promises.
Officials say they've heard from 198 people who lost a total of about $400,000 in the alleged scam. Consumer Affairs Director David Szuchman said he expects more to come forward now that the lawsuit, which was filed last month, has been announced.
Szuchman also said he would be providing information from the civil investigation to prosecutors who could file criminal charges.
Turner's lawyers denied the claims and say the travel club has nearly 19,000 members who have made 250,000 trips since 2005.
Lawyer Oliver Griffin called it a "buyer's remorse case" that does little more than reveal some customer service problems.
"We believe that there may be some expectations issues that were unreasonable by the consumers," he said.
A Morris County judge this week issued an order barring Turner from doing anything illegal but denying the state's request to shut down the business and freeze his assets.
Turner's lawyers said his company is operating in Manalapan and Parsippany.
Offices in Sewell and Westampton have closed — but that's only because of consolidation, said lawyer Richard Gallucci Jr.
Szuchman says Dreamworks, which has also operated as Five Points Travel Company and Bentley Travel has been running the scam since at least January 2007.
The offers were enticing. "In these tight economic times, a vacation package for a good price is a home run for a consumer," Szuchman said.
Virendar Puri, a financial representative who lives in Sewell, said he and his wife got an invitation in the mail in the spring of 2008 with an offer: If they sat through a 90-minute presentation, they would get a free trip to Mexico.
They went to the Dreamworks office in their town one evening. Puri said there were about eight couples there for the sales pitch. Then a salesperson arrived at each couple's table and started making offers.
He said the initial offer was a membership for around $8,000. Puri said he finally agreed to join the club when the price was dropped to $5,000.
By the time they got home that night, he said, he and wife Ranjna were regretting signing up. The next morning, he said, they called and faxed messages to the company trying to get out of the deal. He said Turner promised to refund the money.
But when the money never turned up, he said, the couple sued.
"They've given me a judgment," he said. "But I can't collect on it."