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Resale ripoff

Companies that offer to resell your timeshare may sound like a sure thing, but thousands of customers say they were ripped off. And state officials have done little to stop it.

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Vacation Register

Company details

Opened on: June 21, 2000

Closed on: Sept. 24, 2010

Location: 10462 Roosevelt Blvd., St. Petersburg, 33716

Second location: 2005 Fowler Ave. E, Tampa, Hillsborough, 33612

Better Business Bureau rating: Vacation Register - No rating. International - A+

Business website: Inactive

Company history

Vacation Register

These are actually two companies with similar names: Vacation Register and Vacation Register International.

Mike Earle launched Vacation Register from his northeast St. Petersburg home. The company soon expanded, and Earle recruited his friend John Haggar to open an office in Tampa.

Haggar says he eventually opened his own company, Vacation Register International, and that any customer complaints were caused by Earle's company.

The Attorney General's Office has received 57 complaints against Vacation Register and six complaints against Vacation Register International. Earle's company has no rating with the Better Business Bureau. Haggar's company has an A-plus rating.

 

At left, the company's location at 10462 Roosevelt Blvd. in St. Petersburg.
JIM DAMASKE | Times

Actions against this business

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services fined Vacation Register $4,000 in March 2008 for using two unlicensed salespeople.

Vacation Register International signed a settlement with the Florida Attorney General's Office in September 2009 admitting no wrongdoing and paid $7,500 in legal costs. 

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services fined Vacation Register International $1,000 in July 2009 because salespeople admitted to not following the approved scripts. Scripts not on file with the state were also found.

Officer

Earle

Name: Michael Earle, president, Vacation Register

Earle declined to be interviewed, but emailed a response saying his company offered legitimate advertising. Earle refuted former business partner John Haggar's claims that all complaints against Vacation Register are Earle's fault.

“I could be wrong, but if you are listening to the John Haggars of the world for your article or trying to smear the few good guys ever to be in the industry, your article will be a failure," Earle wrote.

Earle has two convictions of felony marijuana possession, one conviction of felony cocaine possession, and multiple misdemeanor drug possession convictions, according to state records.

 

Pinellas County Sheriff's Office photo taken in 2007 for a violation of probation arrest. Charges were dropped.

Officer

Haggar

Name: John Haggar, president, Vacation Register International

Haggar is the son of Paul Haggar, a former contractor and developer well-known for the Christmas lighting display on his Snell Isle home in the 1980s.

Haggar says he has known Mike Earle and Albert Wilson since they were children growing up in the same northeast St. Petersburg neighborhoods. He followed them into timeshare resale, but Haggar says he ran an honest company, while Wilson and Earle didn't.

Haggar now runs My Consumer Advocate, a company that helps victims of timeshare resale scams get their money back. He says he regularly calls state agencies to point out timeshare resale companies he thinks are scams.

“I’m hated in this industry. A big joke two years ago was that they were all going to get me a bullet-proof vest,” Haggar said.

Brian Blanco | Special to the Times

Victim

Focke

Name: Jennifer Focke

Focke, a 34-year-old nurse from Denton, Texas, was saving for fertility treatments when a salesman called and convinced her to spend $400. She owns a timeshare in Hawaii, and the Vacation Register salesman told he could sell or rent it. Focke says she could never find the listing for her unit on Vacation Register's website.

Fock says she was swindled by two other Florida resale companies. She spent about $1,200 total, and never sold or rented her timeshare. She eventually did get fertility treatments, and has infant twins. She could have had them sooner, she said, if she hadn't paid the timeshare resale companies.

Photo courtesy Jennifer Focke

Customer complaints

Vacation Register Inc. has generated 57 consumer complaints to the Florida Attorney General's Office since 2008. Search a database of Pinellas and Hillsborough county companies that have been listed in two or more complaints to the Florida Attorney General.

List of all the companies in this report

How we did this story

The Tampa Bay Times started investigating the timeshare resale industry in June 2011.

The newspaper reviewed more than 2,000 consumer complaints against Tampa Bay area companies and tracked down their offices across two counties in an attempt to interview owners and employees.

The Times interviewed more than 100 people, including company employees, victims and government officials who oversee or investigate timeshare resale companies. It also reviewed thousands of pages of court documents and licensing records and closely examined the criminal histories of employees at more than a dozen local resale companies with customer complaints.

The complaints reviewed are those recorded by the state Attorney General's Office, which operates a fraud "hotline" and accepts and categorizes complaints that come in by phone, email and letter.

Contact reporter Will Hobson to suggest further timeshare resale story ideas.

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