-written by InsideTheGate.com staff
In July, 2010 FBI Special Agent John J. Mesisca began an investigation into the Vacation Ownership Group (aka The VO Group), a company that claimed to be able to help timeshare owners relieve themselves of their timeshare debt, among other things.
In April, 2012 Agent Mesisca presented a condensed version of his findings in an affidavit he had prepared to show probable cause in support of the issuance of a complaint against 16 VO Group members, all of whom were subsequently arrested and charged with multiple counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud and money laundering, to the tune of approximately $3 million dollars.
The methods allegedly used by the defendants to defraud their victims, plus scripts they used, discussion of interviews with witnesses, victims and the defendants themselves are clearly spelled out in that affidavit, which you can read in its entirety in PDF format at this link.
Five of the defendants, the only ones who have not pled guilty in this case, are now being tried in Camden, NJ Federal Court. Those defendants are: Adam and Ashley Lacerda, (co-owners of both VO Group and its successor company VO Financial Corp.); Ian Resnick (a close and loyal associate of the Lacerdas); Joseph DiVenti and Genevieve Manzoni (both of whom were employees at VO Group). They stand accused of taking victims’ money through fraudulent means, failing to fulfill their promises and keeping the money for themselves.
The trial, which began July 22, 2013, is now drawing toward its final phase and the mountain of evidence that has been presented against the defendants by Federal prosecutors makes that affidavit seem like a molehill. It shows a dark side of the VO Group that belies the angels-of-mercy they represent themselves to be.
Included in that evidence is a long trail of bank statements and other bank documents, e-mails, contracts signed by alleged victims, scripts confiscated during a raid on the VO Group office detailing exactly how to get a potential client to commit to the company’s offers, taped phone calls between clients (and an undercover FBI agent pretending to be a client), and witness after witness who took the stand, some of them alleged victims of the fraud. Special agent Masisca also testified at length.
Ian Resnick, testifying in his own defense, said about his employment with VO Group, “I just found out I was going to be a father, and I really believed what we were doing and the concept was well meaning and needed.” While denying everything he could get away with denying on the stand, he insisted his past of cocaine addiction and a federal prison term served for bank robbery was behind him, and his only desire was to help people buried in timeshare debt. According to him, he didn’t know anything about any scam.
But Karen Wolffe, one of the alleged victims, was a reluctant witness who recounted that after multiple calls with Resnick — who told her things like “my life is on the line, I have an 18-month-old, I’m wrapping Christmas presents for him”, and so on — she did not want to get involved and testify.
In the Court’s opinion, according to a Court document, this contact with a potential witness was intentionally done to mislead Ms. Wolffe and prevent her from testifying and it almost succeeded; along with other documented attempts by defendants to pursue similar avenues, the question is how many people did they get to before they were stopped? Probably no one will ever know the answer to that.
As for evidence against Adam Lacerda, documents and witnesses plus his own testimony paint an unsympathetic picture of his character. Under oath on the stand he admitted to telling lie after lie after lie. He also admitted to using an alias, to using a spoofing device on his phone to change his voice and mask the number from which he was calling, among many other things. Also included in the evidence were statements made by several former employees asserting, under oath, that Adam wrote the sales script they were given and that he personally trained them to use it.
A compelling piece of evidence putting Adam’s fingerprints on the frauds and misrepresentations is an e-mail that recently came to light. The e-mail was sent to Adam and Ashley from the VO Financial in-house attorney, Joshua Gayl. The subject line said: “what happens if a potential client brings up the FBI or says VO Group is a scam?”
The response to that email was sent from Customer Care, which is controlled by the Lacerdas, and forwarded to Alan Lacerda, Ryan Klinger, Ian Resnick and Joshua Gayl with a note at the top that said: Get out to manager and reps. Train them on it:
The potential client says, “You’re from VO? I was scammed by VO Group. I sent them money. They scammed me.
DO NOT LIE. DO NOT RUN AWAY. DO NOT PUNT.
The email then showed several wrong answers to such questions from potential clients, followed by several (longer) right answers, all of which are designed to soothe and deceive. (Click on the image at the top of this page to see the document for yourself.)
As part of the evidence leading to the recent revocation of his bail, the Court cited Adam’s admission to being familiar with bank transfers, documentary evidence of fabricated communications and documents — more than enough to suggest that he’s capable of manufacturing false documents — as well as evidence that he impersonated bank officials. And then there’s the $190,000 in cash, which was found in a safe in the basement of his house when it was searched and his continued access to cash via VO Financial, a company he continued to operate until his bail was revoked (and perhaps still does, from jail?). All of those things plus the potential severity of the sentence if he should be found guilty and the fact that he and Ashley had used a chartered plane to visit Mexico within the last couple of years led to the Court’s decision that he was a serious flight risk. Consequently his bail was revoked and he was remanded into custody, joining his wife Ashley, Ian Resnick and Joseph DiVenti in the correctional facility for the remainder of the trial.
His defense attorney, and those of the other defendants, have done their best to put a better light on them and to poke holes in the Government’s case but they’ve had an uphill battle.
Will the complicated (sometimes boring) evidence supplied to prove the guilt of five defendants be enough to convince a jury? Or will they find something compelling in the defense case for a finding of not guilty (at least on some counts)?
Meanwhile, the trial continues today with more testimony. Both detractors and supporters of the various defendants will have to wait a little while longer for the outcome. The case is expected to go to the jury sometime next week.
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