Fresno travel offer connected to criminal investigations
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- An offer for free travel has lured dozens of people in the Valley to a sales pitch connected to companies under criminal investigation in at least two states.
The promotion came in the form of a postcard sent to homes all over Fresno. It led to a Northeast Fresno hotel, an hour-long seminar, and a sales pitch the Better Business Bureau describes as "high pressure." But now, questions have apparently shut it down.
The postcard looks innocent enough and it convinced dozens of people to show up for those seminars over the last couple weeks. But when they contacted Action News, we found the connection to criminal fraud investigations in Colorado and New Jersey.
The promise of a free vacation can be hard to resist. But this so-called "fly away promotion" led people to a sales team operating out of a Northeast Fresno hotel.
"I think it's a hit and run team," said Fresno resident Don Schrack.
Schrack sat through the pitch with a suspicious mind. He says a phone operator told him the offer came from a new Fresno travel agency called Blue Water. But the presentation was for American Travel Planners. After sitting through the hour-long seminar, the real pitch came.
"Suddenly there was a closer in front of each table," Schrack said. "So it was a buy today or else type of situation."
The membership was supposed to cost $9,000, but if he paid $5,000 immediately, Schrack said he would get more deals and savings on flights, hotels, and just about anything you'd need to travel.
But Schrack says he smelled a rat. It turns out; a travel company called Blue Water is in hot water in New Jersey. Its attorney general filed a criminal case against the owner claiming fraud.
And American Travel Planners is the new name for Sea to Ski Vacations, a Colorado company being sued by the state. Colorado's attorney general claims the company uses a series of tricks to fleece victims. Schrack believes he was subject to the same tricks.
"If they're not shady, they're certainly perhaps less than ethical," Schrack said.
Schrack eventually got the package he was promised, but it's far from free and the Better Business Bureau questions whether he'll ever be able to use it.
"When we investigated the airline certificate, it's written by a company called Millennium Travel out of Florida and that company has an F rating with the Better Buisness Bureau," said Cindy Dudley of the Better Business Bureau.
The Better Business Bureau actually sent employees to one of the seminars after Action News started asking questions about the postcards. Their experience was similar to Schrack's. The day after they visited, the sales team packed up and left the hotel, even though they'd booked seminars through the weekend.
An Action News reporter checked with California's attorney general's office. A spokesperson told him she couldn't comment on complaints or investigations. A check of online records from the office shows Blue Water is registered in the state, but only through next Tuesday.
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