FOX 8 Defenders: Legal battle with national resort rental

New Orleans, La. -- The FOX 8 Defenders have an update on the legal battle that a group of New Orleans area residents is waging against Festiva Adventure Club.

"We pay about $120 a month and then, altogether... between maintenance fees and all these other fees, we've paid about $5,000 in two years," said Stephani Gonzales of Chalmette.

That's what she's dished out to be a member of Festiva.  But after two years and $5,000, her family hasn't been able to enjoy a single vacation through the resort rental.

"No, not one... we tried, but we haven't had one," said Gonzales.

She's part of the lawsuit against Festiva filed in Orleans Parish a year ago.  Since then, the case has been moved to federal court.

Carl Finley, who represents New Orleans area customers in the suit, says because of a clause in Festiva's sales document, the legal fight has been sent to an arbitrator.  That person will be charged to look at the facts and decide the issue out of court. Finley tells FOX 8, the first meeting with the arbitrator case manager is set for August 9.

Gonzales, like dozens of others who contacted the FOX 8 Defenders for help, wants a refund and a way out of the Festiva contract, something she says they promised if she wasn't satisfied.

"They called me on the phone and told me that we won money, a car or a vacation," said Gonzales.

When she met with a rep in person, she said she had to sign a lengthy contract to finance a vacation plan.  She made a $700 down payment, and at 17-percent interest agreed to monthly payments. The term of the contract is 40 years, which means the expiration date goes to 2050.

On top of all that, Gonzales is paying maintenance fees -- for what, she's not sure. She explained that the Gatlinburg, Tenn. resort Festiva advertised when she bought in isn't even available.

"Well we called to book it, and they told us they no longer have the resort," said Gonzales.

Other consumers have told the Defenders that, when they've tried to book other destinations, there's never availability.

Now the Defenders are concerned about a Festiva marketing tool inside Clearview Mall in Metairie that appears to be luring in future customers.

A sign posted inside the mall says "win a car or... $25,000."

In order to take a chance, consumers are required to fill out personal information, including their income, and by signing the form it says you give "SETI Marketing, Festiva Development Group and its subsidiaries" permission to contact you with regards to the promotion and vacation offers.

It's more promises that some area consumers say Festiva didn't deliver on in the past.

According to past FOX 8 Defenders reports, the state attorney general's office has opened an investigation into Festiva to determine if there's been any theft by fraud.  An AG spokesperson could not comment on the investigation at this time because of the ongoing nature of it.

FOX 8 News received the following response from Miles Thomas, Festiva's legal counsel in Louisiana, Thursday afternoon:

Festiva confirms that the court action has been stayed, or put on hold, and one owner has begun arbitration proceedings. Festiva's policy is to not discuss facts or allegations during the arbitration process.