Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Attorney General Abbott Gets $64 Million Verdict In Trial Against Fraudulent Travel AgencyDALLAS - A civil jury returned a landmark $64 million verdict Monday as Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s litigators won a major case against a travel agency that falsely claimed the Attorney General endorsed its sales and marketing practices.
The jury also found Sun Country Travel and its principals liable for a number of deceptive sales and advertising practices that misled the traveling public, while allowing it to pocket huge profits.
“This verdict sends the loudest and strongest possible warning to anyone operating a travel business that is scamming consumers,” Attorney General Abbott emphasized. “We will not tolerate this kind of conduct in Dallas or anywhere else in Texas.”
The jury’s decision also marks the first court verdict rendered against a Do-Not Call violator. The company’s telemarketers repeatedly called consumers who chose to be listed on the state and federal Do-Not Call lists, which prohibit telemarketers from calling these numbers. Overall, the defendants must pay civil penalties of $15.2 million and restitution of $49 million, according to the jury’s verdict.
Sun Country, also known as Vavro, McDonald, Kennedy and Associates, L.L.C., and Travel Partners, L.L.C., had offices in Arlington, Carrollton and Houston. It was sued by the Attorney General in February 2003 after investigators became aware of the company’s claims to consumers that the Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau endorsed its business practices as a travel agency.
Sun Country’s principals David G. Vavro, Jerry L. McDonald Sr. and Jerry L. McDonald Jr., were also named in the suit and found liable.
The company’s telemarketing pitches falsely offered “completely free” vacation packages to lure consumers to a 90-minute presentation describing the company’s “discount” travel services. The telemarketers, however, omitted information about a variety of fees, deposits, airline and hotel taxes and other costs linked to these “free” vacations, plus the company placed tight restrictions on when these trips could be taken.
The “free” vacation offers were only valid for one year, and reservation requests had to be submitted by consumers at least 90 days in advance of the departure dates. The company disclosed neither of these restrictions until after the presentations and consumers had signed up.
Consumers who encounter what they believe to be false or misleading solicitations from other travel companies may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (800) 252-8011 or file a complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov