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New Orleans, La. - The FOX 8 Defenders team has investigated a national resort rental company for two years. Now, in a follow-up report, FOX 8 has learned the growing consumer complaints against Festiva Adventure Club extend far beyond Louisiana. Top prosecutors in nearly a dozen states are now investigating.
"We have clients who are out of pocket anywhere from $3,000 to literally $30,000 that have received nothing in return," said Metairie attorney Scott McQuaig.
He represents about 200 New Orleans-area consumers who say Festiva never delivered on promises to book vacations in and out of the country. Ronald Dwyer is one of the many complainants who first turned to the FOX 8 Defenders for help.
"I've been making payments for months you know... without ever going on a trip or anything," said Dwyer in an interview with FOX 8 earlier this year.
In addition to those monthly payments, Dwyer told FOX 8 he dished out a $1,700 down payment to become a Festiva member and signed a lengthy 40-year contract to finance a vacation plan. "It's like having a mortgage on a home that doesn't exist," explained McQuaig.
Dwyer was one of two parties named in a lawsuit against the resort rental company and the first to go to arbitration -- it was settled out of court in his favor earlier this year.
"The contract is void. They have to refund everything that I put in to it... payments, up front payments, and they also have to repair my credit... because they reported me to the credit bureau," said Dwyer.
McQuaig said the second case is in the process of being scheduled for arbitration, and there are plans to file a lawsuit in the next couple of weeks, on behalf of a large group of other consumers in Orleans Civil District Court.
Meantime, McQuaig said, there's a growing list of very similar consumer concerns across the country.
"We've been involved with the attorneys general in eight or nine different states in connection with their criminal and civil investigations of Festiva and their affiliated companies," said McQuaig.
In addition to meetings with the Louisiana AG, McQuaig and his legal team just returned from a meeting in Tennessee with that state's attorney general. He told FOX 8 they've had conversations with top prosecutors in other Southern states, including Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
In the North and Midwest, they've talked with attorneys general in North Dakota and Wisconsin and in the Northeast, Maine and Massachusetts. McQuaig said, in all of those states, they've found the same set of circumstances.
"We called to book it, and [Festiva] told us they no longer have the resort," explained Stephani Gonzales in an interview with FOX 8 last year.
Gonzales told us last August, she was paying maintenance fees on top of monthly payments. But she wasn't sure why, she said, because the Gatlinburg, Tenn. resort that Festiva advertised when she bought in isn't even available.
McQuaig said included on those bills for maintenance fees are charges for travel insurance. "You've got someone who'd love to go on a trip, they try their best to book a trip, they're not going on a trip, but yet they're charged for travel insurance," said McQuaig.
Several families like the Dwyers stopped making monthly payments and paying their bills for maintenance fees and insurance when they realized they weren't getting what they were promised. "Many of them were reported to credit bureaus as non-payment of a mortgage obligation," said McQuaig. He explained that is also not in compliance with Louisiana law.
The Louisiana attorney general's office tells FOX 8 it's actively investigating and pursuing consumer complaints against Festiva. The AG's office has a consumer protection hotline and encourages consumers who've experienced concerns with Festiva to call 1-800-351-4889.
FOX 8 has reached out to Festiva's local attorney for comment on this story. Miles Thomas tells FOX 8, "Festiva's policy is to not discuss facts or allegations during the arbitration process."
The FOX 8 Defenders and volunteers with the National Council of Jewish Women are here to take your consumer concerns. If you have one, call them at 1-877-670-6397.
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