It's vacation season and who doesn't want a break on travel costs?
Some travel clubs make a lot of promises to get you deals on everything from hotels to flights, but they can also require a hefty fee to join.
An out-of-state group going by the name, "Southwest Getaways," recently sent postcards to people in Sioux Falls inviting them to a so-called "VIP Expo."
Yet as our KELOLAND News investigation has discovered, the people behind this travel club weren't playing by South Dakota's rules.
You may have received one of these postcards.... a lot of people did. "Spring Getaways" promised round trip tickets and hotels stays to anyone who attended an "exciting VIP" expo, along with a chance to get a $25 VISA gift card. Plus, the first callers were promised $100 in free dining at local restaurants.
While we can't find anyone who actually got those "prizes," we do know that at least one Sioux Falls couple bought into the travel club for $6,000.
Only the contract they got didn't follow South Dakota law. And the people behind this club? Well, there are a lot of company names in several states, but they all lead to this man: John Barze of Florida.
John Barze of Florida was supposed to make his first court appearance in Minnehaha County on two felony charges following a travel show he held here, at Spring Hill Suites by the Empire Mall.
While it may have sounded like "Spring Getaways" was the company on the postcard, it was actually American Travel, Barze's company, which rented a room back in April to sell expensive memberships to its travel club.
A retired Sioux Falls couple, who has asked not to identified, tell us they bought into the club for $6,000 and immediately had regrets after they returned home.
“Chances are if we've got one victim, we've got multiple," Gillaspie said.
The couple called the South Dakota Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection.
“Contracts were signed. The contracts did not give our statute, statutorily three-day right to cancel. It's a paragraph that has to be actually on the contract," Gillaspie said.
Consumer Protection Director Jody Gillaspie says by law, the contract the couple signed should have included that three-day notice of their right to cancel on a separate, duplicate form. It did not.
Authorities arrested John Barze that very same day for breaking South Dakota law.
He now faces two felony counts for failing to inform the buyer of the right to cancel and failure to furnish the cancellation form.
"American Travel" hung up this sign with promises to its members, including offering prompt and courteous service, listening to members and meeting their needs. The company didn't get a required peddler's license in Sioux Falls.
Our investigation found Barze's company, American Travel Brokers was first registered in Delaware, and later transferred to Idaho, even though Barze's address is in Florida.
Barze told the court he had yet to retain an attorney, so his initial appearance was delayed for a second time, and his now scheduled for July 6th.
"It's hard to research prior to, so those should be some of the red flags that go off for people. And when they don't want to give a physical location of their company, And they don't want to give what state, and they give multiple states they belong in, those could be potential red flags to cause you to check into things a little further," Gillasspie said.
When it comes to multiple states and multiple company names, we tracked down several related to Barze, as well as complaints about his travel club practices at various consumer sights online.
When we continue our investigation next week, we'll look into those, as well as an ongoing case recently filed against him and his associates by another state for deceptive business practices and for violating consumer protection law after law.
So, what about the couple who signed up for the travel club here? Will they be able to get their $6,000 back?
That's the good news in this story; their credit card company refunded the money right away. But they were lucky. Many people in other states have lost thousands of dollars in these travel club schemes. You won’t want to miss our ongoing investigation into travel clubs run by Barze coming up on KELOLAND News.
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