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Attorney General, District Attorneys Settle Consumer Complaint With Three Florida Travel Companies
(MARIN, Calif.) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today joined with the district attorneys of Marin and Napa in announcing settlement of a consumer protection lawsuit to restrict advertising practices and require refunds to be offered by Travel Opportunities of Fort Lauderdale, Inc., National Travel Services, Inc., and Ramada Plaza Resorts-Orlando/Ft. Lauderdale Vacations. The companies had been accused, among other things, of using misleading and deceptive promotions featuring Robin Leach's "Pack Your Bags" travel advertisements.
The stipulated final judgment was filed today in Marin County Superior Court by Marin District Attorney Paula Kamena, Napa District Attorney Gary Lieberstein, and the Attorney General. Under the settlement, the travel companies agreed to offer refunds to California consumers with unused vacation packages purchased from the companies and to court-ordered restrictions on their advertising and sales practices. The companies and their officers, James H. Verrillo, Daniel Lambert and John Paul Ottino, also will pay civil penalties and costs of $350,000.
The companies must establish a toll-free telephone number to respond to consumer questions regarding the refunds, as well as promote refund procedures in an advertisement to run in the national USA Today newspaper. Consumers will have 30 days following the advertisement to submit written requests for refunds.
The court prohibited the companies and their officers from disseminating misleading or deceptive advertisements and statements. The companies also are prohibited from accepting money from California consumers until giving prominent notice of a three-day right of cancellation. The companies also are required to clearly disclose to consumers purchasing their vacation packages if the consumer must attend a timeshare sales presentation.
The companies were sued after consumers complained about mailers prominently featuring Leach that appeared to be promoting a free Florida vacation. The lawsuit alleged that the advertisements and promotional materials failed to clearly disclose that the vacation packages were not free, had a cost of hundreds of dollars, or required attendance of timeshare sales presentations. The materials also failed to clearly disclose that consumers could cancel their purchase within three days.
Earlier in June, Travel Opportunities Inc., and its president, John Paul Ottino, agreed to a $70,000 stipulated final judgment in the case. Travel Opportunities and Ottino worked with Travel Opportunities of Ft. Lauderdale and Verrillo in disseminating allegedly misleading and deceptive advertising.