CAMDEN, N.J. (May 1, 2013) — A former employee in the New Jersey offices of the Vacation Ownership Group LLC admitted yesterday he conspired to defraud owners of timeshare properties by offering phony consulting services while also illegally collecting unemployment benefits, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Francis Santore, a/k/a “Frank Martin,” 53, of Northfield, N.J., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden federal court to a Superseding Information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of mail fraud.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
The Vacation Ownership Group, a/k/a VO Group LLC, had offices in Mays Landing and Egg Harbor Township, N.J., and claimed to offer consulting services to owners of timeshares, including cancelling, purchasing and upgrading the timeshares.
Santore started working at the VO Group in October 2010, where he was allegedly trained by a co-owner of the group, Adam Lacerda, to lie to customers using prepared scripts. Santore admitted that he would give customers the false impression that he was working for a bank or lending institution. He also admitted that he allowed customers to continue operating under the false impression given by his co-workers that the VO Group had the customer’s “complaint file” from a timeshare resort developer in front of them. Santore admitted that he regularly lied to customers in order to perpetrate the scam. Some of those customers then sent checks to the VO Group. Santore admitted that he falsely told a customer that if the customer paid $8,562 to the VO Group, the group would eliminate the customer’s approximately $18,000 mortgage debt with a timeshare developer. Santore admitted causing more than $70,000 in losses.
Santore also devised a separate scheme to defraud the California unemployment system by collecting $16,200 in unemployment compensation benefits while working at the VO Group.
On Jan. 23, 2013, co-owners Adam Lacerda and Ashley Lacerda and other members of the VO Group were variously charged in a Superseding Indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and other charges. Additional members of the VO Group were also charged by criminal Complaint in April 2012. As for the Lacerdas and other defendants who have not been convicted in this case, the charges and allegations against them are merely accusations and they are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Each of the two counts to which Santore pleaded guilty is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss caused by the offense. Sentencing is currently scheduled for Sept. 13, 2013.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents from the FBI’s Atlantic City Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford in Newark; and special agents from the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Robert Panella, New York Region, for their roles in the investigation leading to the guilty plea. He also thanked the state California’s Employment Development Department for its assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alyson M. Oswald and R. David Walk Jr. of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Camden.
Defense counsel: Robert A. Mintz Esq., Newark