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Nelson to return money to men linked to inquiry

Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson's U.S. Senate campaign will return contributions from two men linked to travel companies under investigation and being sued for deceptive practices.

Nelson has received $4,000 in campaign contributions from Daniel Lambert and James Verrillo, the Tampa Tribune reported Saturday.

Lambert and Verrillo are officers of National Travel Service and Ramada Plaza Resorts of Fort Lauderdale, which has no link to the national Ramada hotel chain.

"It's really unfortunate that they didn't investigate the allegations before returning the funds," Verrillo said. "If they had they would have realized that we're very close to reaching a settlement and we're a very good company that offers a wonderful vacation opportunity to consumers. We just have to straighten out some marketing issues."

The Federal Trade Commission and several states are plaintiffs in a suit against the companies.

Consumers who have complained say they were offered low-cost cruises and trips to Florida or told they had won trips but ended up having to pay a lot more than they expected. In some cases, promised accommodations weren't delivered and "beachfront" hotels turned out to be inland, investigators say.

Jane Rose, an assistant in the Florida attorney general's office, said the office has received "hundreds" of complaints about the companies.

Nelson said he learned of the allegations last week and told aides to return the money.

Nelson, in his second term as insurance commissioner, is seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, a Republican.