METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - The state Attorney General's office has settled a lawsuit it filed against Festiva in 2013, and now some Louisiana consumers will get reimbursement checks. The FOX 8 Defenders were first to expose dozens of consumer complaints against the resort rental company beginning in 2011.
"The people were able to work through our consumer protection division," Attorney General Jeff Landry said. "We've got great people in that division who work hard to ensure that those who scam and defraud the public are either brought to justice or the money is recouped."
Landry presented Metairie consumer Joe Genovese with a reimbursement check from Festiva. He's one of 20 consumers who will be refunded between $500 and $7,500.
"I'm getting a settlement of $5,000," Genovese said.
Like consumers we've interviewed across the state over the last few years, Genovese said he dished out thousands of dollars to become a Festiva member, but that membership came with a contract to finance a vacation plan. The term of that contract was 40 years, which is longer than the average house mortgage. On top of recurring payments, people paid maintenance fees and charges for travel insurance, yet they say Festiva never delivered on promises to book vacations in and out of the country.
"I did not get to enjoy the benefit of any of that. I tried, and I always hit blockades – 'oh that week is booked' or 'that whole resort for that week is booked.' I'd say let me talk to your manager, and I could never get to next level," Genovese said.
"The other thing was the selling, just the behavior during the sale. It was very much of a hard sell with what we consider to be deceptive or unfair practices just not fully disclosing information at the time of the sale," Assistant Attorney General Stacie Deblieux said.
In addition to 20 consumers who will receive reimbursement checks in the mail soon, Deblieux said nearly 90 others have been released from their contract with Festiva. The vacation rental has also stopped operations in Louisiana, but the FOX 8 Defenders have taken hundreds of complaints from consumers who are still waiting to get their money back.
"We have clients who are out of pocket anywhere from $3,000 to literally $30,000 that have received nothing in return," attorney Scott McQuaig said. He's in the process of filing a single lawsuit on behalf of a much larger group of Louisiana consumers, more than 250, in Orleans Civil District Court.
While they wait for relief, Joe Genovese said he learned a tough lesson.
"No matter how extravagant of a presentation, if it appears to be too good, it probably is. You need to do your proper vetting, your proper due diligence," he said.
We've reached out to Festiva for comment and are waiting to hear back.
If you've got a consumer complaint, call the Louisiana Attorney General's consumer protection hotline at 1-800-351-4889.
The FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women also field consumer complaints at 1-877-670-6397 or fill out an online complaint form.