A New Jersey woman pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges that her telemarketing companies pitching bogus timeshare deals bilked $30 million from more than 22,000 victims across North America and Puerto Rico.
Jennifer Kirk, 31, of Howell, N.J., faces up to a quarter century in prison and $250,000 in fines when sentenced Oct. 24 on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.
Federal prosecutors say Kirk, formerly of Florida's Lake Worth and Wellington, operated Florida-based Universal Marketing Solutions and later Creative Vacation Solutions from October 2007 to December 2009, employing telemarketers who falsely told timeshare owners in unsolicited calls they had buyers for their properties.
Kirk's workers solicited fees of up to several thousand dollars from victims in purported closing costs they promised to refund when the deals closed, supposedly within two to three months, the U.S. government alleged. But Kirk's companies sold few if any of the timeshares and pocketed the closing costs.
Three of Kirk's former employees spun off a similar timeshare scam as Real Timeshare Marketing, which federal prosecutors say made 615 sales totaling roughly $1.3 million using the same tactics Kirk employed. Those men, prosecuted separately from Kirk, are serving prison sentences handed down earlier this year in East St. Louis ranging from 18 months to 10 years in prison and have been ordered to repay the money, with one of the defendants facing a restitution tab of $1.1 million.
Kirk's case is the latest sweeping, Florida-based telemarketing scheme to be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office, which specializes in the often-complex matters.
Last December, two telemarketing executives pleaded guilty to a felony count of using a fictitious name as part of a mail-fraud scheme they carried out while selling $40 million in bogus auto-service warranties. Christopher Cowart, 49, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Cris Sagnelli, 45, of Boca Raton, Fla., await sentencing Oct. 3.
Prosecutors have said Transcontinental Warranty Inc. _ with Cowart as its president and Sagnelli as vice president _ ran the scheme from June 2007 until a federal judge in Chicago ordered it to halt the use of deceptive "robo-calls" warning people their auto warranties were expiring and offering to sell them new service plans.
That injunction followed a lawsuit against Transcontinental and another company by the Federal Trade Commission seeking to halt a wave of as many as 1 billion automated, random, prerecorded calls about auto-service warranties.
Cowart and Sagnelli, freed on bond, each face up to five years in federal prison and as much as $250,000 in fines. Both could face an additional five years behind bars because the crime involved telemarketing.