Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State takes control of gas voucher company

Former Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants Inc. employees Vanessa Wiscombe, from right, Robert Edell and Leslie McCabe, discuss how the company dealt with customers.


Former Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants Inc. employees Vanessa Wiscombe, from right, Robert Edell and Leslie McCabe, discuss how the company dealt with customers.

CLEARWATER — A Clearwater marketing firm that offers free gas cards agreed to a state takeover Friday in response to a lawsuit by the state and thousands of complaints across the country.

Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants is now in the hands of state-appointed receiver Charles Stutts, an expert in securities and banking law with the firm Holland & Knight, under an agreement approved by a Pinellas circuit judge during a hearing Friday.

Stutts assumes control over a troubled company saddled with consumer complaints, lawsuits and criminal inquiries. Within the next 10 business days, Stutts is expected to give his first report on the business' operations, which could help determine whether disaffected employees and consumers will receive any of what they are due.

Meanwhile, retailers that distributed Tidewater's free gas offer have been scrambling to calm a storm of complaints from customers who say they were duped into making purchases with a questionable incentive program.

At least one of Tidewater's major clients, Tire Kingdom, has posted a notice on its Web site that it soon will offer customers a different program.

"Tidewater is failing to live up to its obligations," said Bob Crostarosa, senior vice president for marketing of the TBC Retail Group, which owns Tire Kingdom. "We're not pleased with the way Tidewater has treated our customers."

One of the TBC's brands, Big O Tires, has been named in a class action lawsuit over the gas vouchers, which the company gave to consumers who bought tires.

Tidewater's gas vouchers were sold to retailers, which used them as incentives for customers to buy cars, furniture, tires, electronics and other products or even to simply visit a store.

The retailers paid as little as $7 dollars for a $500 voucher and then gave it to their customers.

Consumers had to register their vouchers by paying $5, then send $100 worth of gas receipts each month. Tidewater promised to send a $25 gas card in exchange for the receipts each month until the total amount of the voucher was reached — a process that could take as long as 20 months for a $500 voucher.

The state sued Tidewater and its president, Crystal M. Clark, for deceptive and unfair business practices and called for an emergency injunction hearing Friday to stop the distribution of the gas vouchers.

The state Attorney General's Office and Tidewater reached an agreement prior to the hearing. As a result, neither Clark nor her lawyer, Thomas Little, appeared in court Friday.

Anxious former employees who attended the hearing had hoped to hear something about payment of the benefits they have not been receiving and the fate of the company that terminated them this week.

But they heard little about the company or their future.

"It is my understanding from Mr. Tom Little that (Clark) has closed the doors, which is of her own volition," Robert Follis, of the state Attorney General's Office, told the judge.

The employees huddled around news cameras to voice their frustrations about being told they no longer had jobs in an economy that continues to sour.

"It was very hard," Vanessa Wiscombe, who had worked for Tidewater for a year, said of the company's decision to close this week. "It was very unexpected."

But Wiscombe and others said they increasingly saw that Tidewater was deeply troubled.

"Our checks were bouncing, or we didn't get paid," Wiscombe said.

In addition, Tidewater and Clark are under criminal investigation by the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services.

Clark also goes to court next week on a drug trafficking charge. Police say she sold 20 Oxycontin pills to a confidential informant and undercover police detective for $500.

Ivan Penn can be reached at or (727) 892-2332.

State takes control of gas voucher company 02/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2009 9:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida education news: Athletic trainers, signing bonuses, student vaccinations and more


    SAFETY FIRST: Pasco County school district leaders decide to retain high school athletic trainers, which had been slated for elimination, amid pleas from …

  2. Rays morning after: Why Alex Cobb was out of the game and Alex Colome was in


    Alex Cobb obviously did a really good job pitching the first eight innings for the Rays on Tuesday.

    So why didn't manager Kevin Cash let him pitch the ninth?

    Because he had Alex Colome available to do so.

    Cobb had thrown only 98 pitches, so workload and fatigue were not factors.

  3. Police commander among 6 charged in deadly 1989 UK soccer deaths


    LONDON — British prosecutors charged six people Wednesday in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster where 96 soccer fans were crushed to death.

    Police, stewards and supporters tend and care for wounded supporters on the pitch at Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield, England, on April 15, 1989. British prosecutors on Wednesday June 28, 2017, are set to announce whether they plan to lay charges in the deaths of 96 people in the Hillsborough stadium crush _ one of Britain's worst-ever sporting disasters. [Associated Press]
  4. Supreme Court term ended much different than it began


    BC-US—Supreme Court, 1st Ld-Writethru,899

    AP Photo WX109

    People visit the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 26, 2017, as justices issued their final rulings for the term, in Washington.  The Supreme Court began its term nine months ago with Merrick Garland nominated to the bench, Hillary Clinton favored to be the next president, and the court poised to be controlled by Democratic appointees for the first time in 50 years.  Things looked very different when the justices wrapped up their work this week. [Associated Press]
  5. SPC's Bill Law leaves with pride for the faculty, concern for students — and a story about hotdogs


    ST. PETERSBURG — The local community college had already made a name for itself when William Law Jr. first arrived on campus in the early 1980s as a vice president. Still, the school, then named St. Petersburg Junior College, was just a shadow of the sprawling state college it would later become.

    Bill Law, outgoing St. Petersburg College president, said he is proud of the college cultivating stronger relationships with the community.