Three people from southern New Jersey were arraigned on charges of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in a $2.6 million time share mortgage fraud, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced.
Ashley Lacerda, 32, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Francis Santore, 52, of Northfield, N.J., and Brian Corley, 27, of Egg Harbor, N.J. were scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman in Camden federal court to be arraigned. Four more defendants also charged in the indictment – Adam Lacerda, 28, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Steven Cox, 48, of Ventnor City, N.J., Alfred Giordano, of Hurry County, S.C., and Joseph Diventi, 32, of Somers Point, N.J. – are scheduled to be arraigned before Judge Hillman on May 21.
The seven people listed above and nine others were arrested on April 17, on a complaint which charged them with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Additional substantive counts of mail fraud and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering were added when they were charged by an indictment returned by a federal grand jury May 3.
The nine other defendants – Ian Resnick, 37, of Absecon, N.J., Ryan Bird, 34, of Clementon, N.J., Catherine Bannigan, 57, of Egg Harbor Township, Vincent Giordano, 27, of Margate, N.J., Joseph Saxon, 38, of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Aimee Allen, of Little River, S.C., Genevieve Manzoni, 46, of Lake Worth, Fla., Eric Reilly, 33, of Galloway, N.J., and Eric Reiff, 40, of Williamsburg, VA – remain under the charge in the complaint.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
In July 2010, law enforcement officers began investigating The Vacation Ownership Group, (a/k/a VO Group LLC). The investigation revealed that from at least March 2009 and to Sept. 1, 2011, the defendants, through the VO Group, participated in a fraudulent scheme in which representatives of the VO Group, often using false identities, telephoned owners of timeshare vacation properties purchased from Flagship Resort Development, Wyndham Vacation Resorts Inc. and other timeshare developers. They convinced the owners in some cases to submit money to the VO Group, purportedly to pay off the owners’ “mortgages” on their timeshares. The VO Group claimed that the timeshare owner could pay off the mortgage balance at a substantially reduced amount – often by as much as 50 percent the amount of the owner’s original mortgage – by mailing payment to the VO Group at a post office box in Pleasantville, N.J. The VO Group representatives also got timeshare owners to send the VO Group money purportedly to have timeshares cancelled or sold. After receipt of payments for the VO Group’s “service,” the conspirators caused those payments to be deposited into a bank account in the name of the VO Group. Rather than paying off the timeshare owner’s mortgage, cancelling the owner’s timeshare or selling the timeshare, the conspirators used the timeshare owner’s money for their personal use.
The investigation also revealed that in an attempt to cover up the scheme, the conspirators in most cases engaged in a “bait and switch” tactic by purchasing an additional timeshare in the victim’s name without the victim’s knowledge. The victim purportedly had assented to the purchase based on documents the VO Group previously emailed to the victim for signature even though the victim had been led to believe he or she was simply paying off the original timeshare mortgage.
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement officers interviewed approximately 225 victims of the conspirators’ scheme identified to date. Many of the victims are elderly. Law enforcement has determined that the conspirators defrauded the victims of more than $2.6 million.
Since the arrests, the VO Group changed its name to VO Financial Corp.
The investigation also revealed that Adam Lacerda, Ashley Lacerda, and Corley sought and received unemployment compensation during the time they were working at the VO Group. The indictment charges them with mail fraud in connection with this related scheme.
The mail and wire fraud conspiracy charge, and mail and wire fraud charges each carry a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The conspiracy to commit money laundering charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Fishman credited special agents from the FBI’s Atlantic City Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Ward 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 ongoing investigation. He also thanked the N.J. Department of Labor, Benefit Payment Control Unit, for their assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys R. Stephen Stigall and Alyson Oswald of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Camden.