Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tidewater's free gas cards an empty offer, report says

CLEARWATER — Consumer warning: Stop sending in those receipts for your free gas. You can pretty much forget about ever collecting even a dime from the company that made the offer.

Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants, a Largo-Clearwater based company, owes customers more than $10 million but has less than $300 in its bank accounts. It has no real property, no cars.

"It's extremely unlikely that Tidewater would ever be able to redeem the certificates and issue cards," said Charles Stutts, the state appointed receiver charged with investigating Tidewater's operations. He released his initial report Friday.

The company has distributed hundreds of thousands of vouchers for free gas through retailers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Stutts' conclusion: It was one grand sham.

"The defendants literally created the 'certificates' and 'vouchers' out of thin air," Stutts wrote in his report. "... At no time, however, did the defendants have sufficient assets or capital to actually satisfy their obligations to purchase and issue the prepaid cards to consumers who satisfied the redemption criteria."

Stutts concluded that Tidewater's "business model lacked economic viability from the outset.''

With his initial review, Stutts also cautioned consumers about protecting their personal information because he said he saw signs that their information might have been sold to a third party. He said consumers should carefully consider engaging any other company offering gas vouchers.

"As I've looked into this, I would just be careful about dealing with any of them," Stutts said in an interview.

The state seized Tidewater's operations two weeks ago after complaints mounted from consumers and retailers that the company was not fulfilling the promises made in its free gas card program.

Retailers bought gas vouchers from Tidewater in denominations as high as $500 and delivered them to consumers as incentives for purchases or even just to visit their stores and test drive cars.

Consumers were required to register their vouchers with a $5 payment and send $100 worth of gas receipts each month. In exchange, Tidewater promised a $25 gas card each month until the consumer reached the full value of the voucher.

Tidewater suggested to retailers and consumers that its gas voucher program was backed by oil companies, though the company's owner, Crystal Clark, told the St. Petersburg Times that the oil companies were not involved.

Stutts found some 130,000 consumers registered with Tidewater, but the number could be much higher. He found boxes with thousands of pieces of unopened mail in Tidewater's offices.

"It should be noted that the offices were in an extreme disarray, with documents and files strewn about the floor and desktops, multiple boxes of unidentified, unopened mail located throughout the offices, leftover food and drinks, and inoperable equipment," the report stated.

Tidewater printed more than 2 million vouchers, the report stated.

Those vouchers were sold to such retailers as members of the TBC Retail Group, which includes Tire Kingdom and Big O Tires; Kia, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, BMW, Hyundai dealerships across the country; electronics stores such as the bankrupt Tweeter and Sound Advice brands as well as the Big Screen Stores in the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., area; and furniture stores, including Ashley Furniture and some La-Z-Boy, Bassett and Thomasville stores.

The retailers have feared they might be responsible for repaying consumers if Tidewater did not come through. Such an onus couldn't come at a worse time for the retailers, which are trying to gain footing in the deteriorating economy.

John Zajac, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau, said consumers should contact the retailers that gave them their vouchers to see what, if any, steps they might be taking to satisfy the gas card obligations.

There are 17 states actively investigating Tidewater and its operations.

One of the lead investigative bodies is the Pinellas Department of Justice and Consumer Services, which is conducting a criminal review of Tidewater and its president, Clark.

Deborah Berry of the Pinellas consumer agency said Stutts' findings should remind consumers to carefully guard their personal information, in particular when they do not know the party that is supposed to fulfill the obligation.

"I know they felt kind of safe giving their information because a vendor gave them the coupons," Berry said about Tidewater's case. "You really don't know who these people are."

Don Dominguez, a tire and tire incentive broker who raised concerns about Tidewater's operations to local and state law enforcement, questioned why Tidewater did not have any money after selling the vouchers to nationwide corporations.

"I'm just absolutely stunned with the volume of business that she did ... to have nothing in her bank account, is absolutely astonishing," Dominguez said. "I'm dumbfounded."

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.

Tidewater's free gas cards an empty offer, report says 03/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 6, 2009 11:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Forecast: Sunny skies, warm temperatures to rule across Tampa Bay this week

    Weather

    After periods of heavy rain in some parts of Tampa Bay over the weekend, the region can expect sunny skies, and warm condition to prevail through the workweek.

    [10Weather WTSP]
  2. PolitiFact Florida: How would Florida fare in Graham-Cassidy health care bill?

    National

    Following a sharp rebuke by late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., hit the airwaves to defend his bill that would undo much of the Affordable Care Act.

    Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
  3. Whatever happened to the Zika epidemic?

    Health

    Remember Zika?

    The last time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential threat of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to still be vigilant against bug bites and standing water. At the time, doctors and researchers were bracing for what was supposed to be another active summer …

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting Zika. Cases of the virus are down dramatically in Florida.
  4. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. Is the Bundt cake back? How retro baked goods are becoming trendy again

    Cooking

    Once there were grunts and slumps, buckles and brown betties. Oh, and pandowdies and sonkers. In the olden days, people routinely made angel food cakes, tomato soup cakes and hummingbird cakes. These were not Duncan Hines mixes, but rather confections made from scratch following yellowed and stained recipes in your …

    Nothing Bundt Cakes in Tampa offers a variety of options, from tiny “bundtinis” and 10-inch cakes that serve 18 to 20 people. Core flavors include lemon, marble, red velvet and chocolate-chocolate chip, with featured flavors like confetti.