South Jersey couple sentenced in travel club scam

A South Jersey couple was sentenced Friday for stealing millions of dollars from unwitting customers through a vacation club scam.

Daryl Turner, 42, of Marlton, was ordered to serve 7 years in state prison. Turner’s wife, 44-year-old Robyn Bernstein, was sentenced to 5 years of probation. Turner and Bernstein both pleaded guilty Aug. 7 to second-degree theft by deception.

The duo from January 2007 through July 2011 ran the schemes through several travel companies they owned and operated under a number of different names.

They would recruit customers using mass postcard mailings offering complimentary cruises and airfare for two. When recipients called the toll-free number on the card, they were told they must first attend a 90-minute presentation at one of the couple’s business locations. Prosecutors said those sessions were actually high-pressure sales pitches for bogus vacation packages.

All attendees of the presentations received gift certificates for the free cruises and airfare. But in order to redeem them, they were required to make advance payments. Prosecutors said each person was billed $249 for "free" cruises, purportedly for port charges and government fees, and $50 for "free" airfare deals, which was supposed to cover fees, taxes and surcharges. Even after they paid, customers were never able to book their getaways.

Turner and Bernstein would, in a second scheme, convince customers to buy vacation packages, typically priced between $2,200 and $6,500, by promising “unattainable vacation prices and unavailable vacation properties,” according to a release from acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman.

Turner and Bernstein weren’t actually involved in booking travel, at all. Instead, they contracted with a Georgia-based company, which did not offer any of the benefits the couple promised to customers.

“Turner carried out one fraudulent scheme after another, stealing from hundreds of unsuspecting customers who thought he would make traveling more affordable for them,” Hoffman said in a statement. “Instead, he ruthlessly stole the money they had set aside for their vacations.”

Turner and Bernstein laundered more than $700,000 in criminal proceeds through their personal bank accounts and used the cash to buy a mansion in Marlton.

The state Division of Consumer Affairs in May 2009 filed an initial civil complaint against Turner and three of his businesses after receiving nearly 700 consumer complaints. Turner settled the action in February 2011, agreeing to pay a settlement of over $3 million and to refrain from working in, owning or operating any travel or vacation club companies in New Jersey for five years.

The Division of Consumer Affairs later discovered Turner had opened another travel company in his wife’s name and that he had hidden assets, including bank accounts and cars. A new civil complaint was filed against Turner in June 2011, and he was the next month arrested on theft charges.

“After law enforcement shut down Turner’s shady travel companies, he opened a new one and went back to his old tricks,” Division of Criminal Justice director Elie Honig said in a statement. “By sending Turner to prison, we have ended his fraud spree and warned the public that this is not a man you want to trust with your money.”

A search warrant executed at one of the travel companies' offices resulted in the seizure of a 2011 Range Rover, a 2001 Ferrari, a 2007 Bentley, a 1999 Porsche and a speedboat.  

Turner and Bernstein were indicted for the theft charges this past April.

In addition to the jail sentence, Turner was on Friday ordered to pay his victims $2.6 million in restitution. He and Bernstein also agreed to give up their mansion and other assets seized during the investigation, including bank accounts and the luxury cars and speedboat.

Contact Alex Wigglesworth at 215-854-2305 or Follow @phila_lex on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; Follow @phillynews on Twitter.