Vacation Ownership Group president Adam Lacerda, on trial in Camden on charges that he headed a $2.4 million scheme to defraud 225 time-share owners, loved his mobile-phone app, a company insider turned prosecution witness told a jury Monday.
It was so handy for helping perpetuate the fraud that he and Lacerda laughed about it, Brian Corley, 28, testified in the federal case against Lacerda, 29, and his wife, Ashley, 33, owners of Vacation Ownership Group, and three employees.
"It was more of an uncomfortable laugh. We knew what we were doing was wrong," said Corley, formerly of Egg Harbor and now from South Carolina.
All five are charged in an alleged scheme to trick time-share owners - many of them elderly - into believing that the Egg Harbor Township-based company, now known as VO Financial Corp., could help people get out of their time-share mortgages in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
The victims lost $2.4 million, the federal government said, because they paid VO Group to get them out of their mortgage payments but the Lacerdas did not follow through, keeping the money instead.
Corley said the sales staff used scripts developed by Adam Lacerda to deceive time-share owners into believing that the VO staff was affiliated with the banks or other financial institutions that held the mortgages on their time-shares.
That's where the phone app came in, Corley said. Lacerda could program his phone so that when the number appeared on the victim's caller ID, it looked like an 800 number from the financial institutions instead of from VO.
Instead of getting a bank official on the line, the victim would be talking to Lacerda pretending to be from the bank and confirming the false information given by sales reps like Corley, he testified.
"We would literally wait until a minute or two after closing hours," Corley said.
To check the deal, victims would call the number and be reassured by hearing the institution's official recording. But no human was available.
The defense case, presented in opening arguments July 22, was that Adam Lacerda, troubled by high-pressure tactics he had seen as a salesman for Wyndham Property Resorts in Atlantic City, started a company to help time-share owners who had been cheated. He recruited the others to help.
On April 18, Corley pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the case before trial judge Noel Hillman. Corley faces a maximum prison term of 40 years, although the more likely range is 41 to 51 months.
In cross-examination, the defendants' lawyers attacked Corley's credibility, having him admit that he had a 10-year work history of lying - first while selling time-shares for Wyndham and then, starting in 2010, for VO Group.
Corley also admitted that he was addicted to OxyContin, supplying it to others in the VO Group office. He said he had been straight since September.
Also on trial are Ian Resnick, 37, of Absecon, N.J.; Genevieve Manzoni, 47, of Florida; and Joseph Diventi, 32, of Somers Point, N.J.