Robert Thomas, 36, Lakeworth, Florida, was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for knowingly participating in a fraudulent telemarketing scam that victimized timeshare owners nationwide.
The United States District Judge explained that the prison term was necessary to promote respect for the law and to deter others from committing the same offense. “This is a very serious crime,” he said, noting that the victims of the scheme – many of whom had financial problems – were particularly vulnerable.
Thomas previously worked as a telemarketer for Universal Marketing Solutions and Creative Vacation Solutions – scam companies that operated out of Palm Beach County, Florida, from October 2007 to January 2010. All told, the companies defrauded 22,000 consumers to the tune of $30 million dollars. Victims were found in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, all 10 Canadian provinces and the Northwest Territory of Canada. There were at least 54 victims in the Southern District of Illinois, representing 28 of the district’s 38 counties.
In July 2013, Thomas pled guilty to a one-count felony Information charging conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with the conduct of telemarketing.
As part of his plea, Thomas admitted that he and other telemarketers lied to consumers over the phone, falsely representing that their company had actual buyers for the consumers’ timeshare properties. In exchange for this false hope, Thomas and others solicited advanced fees of up to several thousand dollars from each victim in purported closing costs – fees they promised would be refunded to the timeshare owner once the closing on the property occurred. Many timeshare owners were told that their closings would take place within 60 to 90 days. Thomas and his co-conspirators, however, simply pocketed the fees. No closings ever took place, and despite
collecting fees from 22,000 victims, not a single timeshare unit was ever sold.
Approximately 30 other people have been charged in connection with this scam. The former chief executive of Creative Vacation Solutions, Jennifer Kirk, pled guilty to a criminal Information on June 30, 2011. She was sentenced on January 9, 2012, to over 16 years in prison and five years’ supervised release. Over 20 others have also been sentenced, receiving prison terms that range from 8 months to 14 years.
Stephen R. Wigginton, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, announced the sentence.
The prosecutions follow an investigation by the St. Louis Field Office of the Chicago Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service, working in concert with the Florida Attorney General’s Office, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Boynton Beach Florida Police Department. The case against Thomas was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nathan D. Stump and Bruce E. Reppert.
As part of his sentence, Thomas was ordered to pay a $500 fine and a $100 special assessment. He will also spend three years on supervised release after his prison term.