Husband and wife convicted in time-share scheme

Posted: September 07, 2013

A husband-and-wife team charged in a multimillion-dollar time-share scam was convicted Thursday of conspiracy and related charges, along with two other employees, in a case watched closely by the vacation industry, which has been hit repeatedly in recent years with similar scams.

Adam and Ashley Lacerda, cofounders of Vacation Ownership Group L.L.C., now known as VO Financial Corp., were convicted by a federal jury in Camden - he on 13 counts, she on six - of conspiracy and mail and wire fraud.

They were charged, along with three employees of their Egg Harbor Township, N.J., firm, of defrauding hundreds of clients of money the clients believed was going toward getting them out of time-share commitments.

Instead, prosecutors said, the time-shares were not canceled, and in some cases employees signed up clients for new time-shares without their knowledge. The employees lied about working with banks and financial institutions with which they had no contact.

Thirteen employees of the company already have pleaded guilty to participating in the scam, and some testified against the defendants at trial.

Ian Resnick, 37, of Absecon, N.J., a convicted bank robber who was dubbed by the government Adam Lacerda's "enforcer," was convicted on seven counts and remains in detention.

Genevieve Manzoni, 46, of Lake Worth, Fla., a sales representative who had recently joined the company, was convicted on a conspiracy count and acquitted on one count of wire fraud. She remains free pending sentencing.

Walking away free was Joseph DiVenti, 32, of Somers Point, N.J. DiVenti's attorney, Brian O'Malley, had argued that he was a first-line caller with no knowledge of the scam.

As the foreman read the 44-count verdict, Ashley Lacerda, 33, broke down in tears, nervously twisting her long blond hair around her index finger. Adam Lacerda, 28, seated two chairs down, held his head with one hand. Behind him, in the packed gallery, family members and friends started to cry.

The sentences are to be determined at hearings Dec. 12 and 13 and will be based on the total amount of money taken from victims across several states.

The government has said the figure could be as high as $3 million, which would mean terms of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The government is still collecting information from potential victims.

The case has been watched closely by the time-share industry, said Craig Johnson, editor of Inside the Gate, a national time-share newsletter and magazine. He said similar companies have cost owners, resorts, and developers millions of dollars, depressed prices on the secondary market, and impacted credit ratings.

"It will certainly be a . . . shot across the bow for other companies using similar practices," Johnson said in an e-mail. "And it is encouraging to the shared-ownership industry's belated efforts to stop them. I will say, though, trying to stop such scams is like playing Whac-A-Mole: Hit one and another one (or two or three) pop up somewhere else."

Behind the scenes of the seven-week trial were a series of bizarre incidents, including alleged witness tampering and an apparent attempt by one defendant to cause a mistrial.

On the eve of the trial, Ashley Lacerda's bail was revoked when she disobeyed a court order by contacting known victims and potential witnesses.

While she was in custody, Resnick, who was detained on previous domestic-abuse charges, passed her a note instructing her to tell her husband - who was free on bail - to flee the country, hoping that would cause a mistrial.

Adam Lacerda's bail was revoked after authorities discovered the note. His wife was later placed on house arrest.

In an emotionally charged detention hearing after the jury verdict Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Alyson M. Oswald argued that Ashley Lacerda should be taken into custody because of the likelihood she would try to talk to victims again and compromise the continuing investigation into how much money was taken.

Oswald said the woman had connections to the still-operational VO Financial Group's finances and could easily get the money to flee.

U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman said it pained him to jail Ashley Lacerda, whose husband also is incarcerated and who has a 13-year-old daughter at home, but called her participation in witness tampering unforgivable.

"I can't think of a more damaging crime," Hillman said. "VO Group contacted thousands of individuals. It's inherent that people would lose $100, $1,000. Many fade away. They're embarrassed. They chalk it up to a bad financial system, a bad investment, or just another hassle. But the administration of justice requires something more than that. It requires they know they can be heard."


Contact Julia Terruso at 856-779-3876 or jterruso@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @juliaterruso.

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