Seattle - February 8, 2000- Attorney General Christine Gregoire today announced that three Florida travel companies who used "lifestyles of the rich and famous" spokesperson Robin Leach, have settled two lawsuits filed against them by agreeing to pay consumers refunds for "dream vacations."
"Those ‘dream vacations’ turned out to be disappointing nightmares," said Gregoire. "These travel companies used deceptive sales tactics and Robin Leach’s celebrity status to deliver false promises of a luxurious vacation that did not exist."
Robin Leach, who was the company pitchman for two of the three companies, is a defendant in one of the lawsuits but has not yet settled with the state of Washington.
The agreements were reached with Washington and sixteen other states, including the District of Columbia after almost a year of negotiations. The lawsuits alleged that Leach, the Florida travel companies and their owners, James Verillo and Daniel Lambert, Vance L. Vogel, and James M. Herron, Sr. misled consumers into believing they had won or were entitled to a dream vacation.
Washington consumers received certificates featuring Leach’s picture and the message: "Robin Leach says Pack Your Bags!" suggesting they had won or were entitled to a luxury Florida vacation and bonus cruise to the Bahamas. Those who purchased the trip received a video of Leach promising them a "world class" vacation and "an experience you’ll never forget."
"An experience like this is something people might like to forget," said Gregoire. "Not only were their ‘luxury’ accommodations substandard, but, in order to get them, some consumers had to sit through up to five grueling hours of ‘hard-sell’ timeshare presentations."
Consumers discovered they had won nothing more than an opportunity to pay as much as $1,000 for a seven-day trip. The bonus three-day "Bahamas Cruise" consumers received from National Travel Services was actually a one-day ferry ride that included bingo games as the ‘Las Vegas entertainment."
In the agreements, consumers who purchased FTN, NTS, or Ramada Plaza Resorts packages but did not take the trip have 60 days to request a full refund. And, for the first time in a settlement of this kind, those who actually took the trips that these three companies sold, are entitled to $200 back, if they file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, the Better Business Bureau or other government consumer protection agency. These consumers have until March 8, 2000 to request the $200 refund.
The three companies and their owners have admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to pay the Attorney General’s office $40,000 in legal costs and fees, and permanently refrain from practices that violate the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the Sellers of Travel Act, and the Promotional Advertising of Prizes Act.
For information on how to request refunds, consumers should contact the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-551-4636, or, for the hearing impaired 1-800-833-6384.