Burlco couple sentenced in travel-agency scams

Posted: February 02, 2014

MOUNT HOLLY Declaring that he should be made an example to other would-be swindlers, a Burlington County judge on Friday sentenced Daryl Turner of Marlton to seven years in prison for running a bogus travel operation that exploited hundreds of victims.

Superior Court Judge Terrence R. Cook Jr. also ordered Turner and his wife, Robyn Bernstein, to pay $2.5 million in restitution, and sentenced Bernstein to five years of probation.

"The entire operation was a culture of deceit and fraud," Deputy Attorney General Mark Kurzawa told the court.

The two are now barred from working in the travel industry in New Jersey.

Turner was led from the court in handcuffs. Bernstein left with her lawyer.

The couple, who operated Dreamworks Vacation Club and other firms in Cherry Hill, Marlton, Parsippany, and Manalapan between 2008 and 2011, pleaded guilty in August to theft by deception.

As part of their plea agreements, the now-separated couple agreed to forfeit their $750,000 house along with their Bentley, Ferrari, Range Rover, and speedboat.

"Mr. Turner is, quite simply, dishonest," the judge said as Turner, 42, stood before him wearing a white turtleneck sweater, chin stubble, and a large black wristwatch.

"He defrauded scores of New Jersey citizens of millions of dollars," said Cook, who cited "high-pressure sales pitches" and mass mailings that promised travelers complimentary cruises or airfare - provided they paid hundreds in "fees and surcharges" that Turner and his wife often pocketed.

But the 800 victims were never able to schedule their trips, the judge said. And when complaints began stacking up, Turner created new travel agencies with new names in other towns around the state to elude detection.

Those other travel agencies were Away We Go Promotions, Five Points Travel Co., Vacations Clubs L.L.C., La Bonne Vie Travel, Bentley Travel, Blue Water Gateway, Modern Destinations, VIP Executives, and Travel Deals L.L.C.

The two have also been charged separately with failing to file tax returns.

In another scam, they persuaded people to buy vacation packages at prices ranging from $2,200 to $6,500 by promising them deep discounts on hotels, golf packages, and car rentals. But the Georgia firm they used did not offer such packages, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

"The scope" of their fraud "was massive," Kurzawa told the judge.

He said Turner even created fake plaques and awards that appeared to have been presented from travel and tour associations.

In his remarks about Bernstein, however, Kurzawa indicated that she had played a lesser role in the operation and had cooperated with authorities in their investigation.

In setting the sentences, Cook abided by agreements negotiated by defense attorneys and the Attorney General's Office. No victims testified at the hearing Friday, and Turner and Bernstein declined Cook's invitation to address the court.

"This crime is more about dollars and cents," Cook said just before sentencing Turner. He said it also made New Jerseyans skeptical of legitimate businesses.

In February 2011, Turner settled a civil complaint against him and his companies brought by the state Division of Consumer Affairs. The settlement totaled $3.1 million and included $2.2 million in restitution to 528 customers and $478,000 in penalties and other costs.

At the request of Turner's attorney, Jeffrey Zucker of Camden, the judge allowed 90 days to determine which victims had already been compensated and which were still owed.

Afterward, Bernstein's attorney, Adam Malamut, told reporters she was "remorseful" but "feels somewhat victimized" by her husband.

"She married the wrong guy," Malamut said, adding that "my client's goal is to keep her freedom."


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