A sentence has been handed down for a Williamsburg, Virginia lawyer convicted for her part in a national timeshare scheme that took place between 2011 and 2013.
Deborah Wagner, 45, was sentenced to over a year in prison and an additional year of supervised release by the United States District Court of the Eastern Districts of Virginia in Norfolk. But she was only a small part of a massive conspiracy that affected hundreds of individuals and 19 timeshare resorts.
The scam worked like this: Brendan J. Hawkins, the ring leader, established Goodbye Timeshare LLC, a business that then took ownership of individual timeshares from people looking to get out of their contracts. They would provide sales pitches to the owners, convince them to sell, and then charge them a $25 to $50 transfer fee.
They would also identify those looking to purchase timeshares, selling them through straw owners. But rather than give the transfer fee to the straw owners, prosecutors said they kept the fees for themselves.
“This was a crime where the defendant benefited largely by preying on the need of elderly individuals to get rid of an asset that had annual dues — to the benefit of the defendant,” U.S. District Attorney Dana J. Boente wrote in the court papers for Hawkins’s case.
This is hardly the first time the timeshare industry has been embroiled in a scandal. The $70 billion industry is notorious for their high maintenance fees and their in perpetuity clauses in contracts, which commit not only the signer, but also their children. But this time, it is the resorts that are the ones claiming to have been defrauded.
In fact, according to Hawkins’s attorney, Fernando Groene, the opaque and often predatory nature of the timeshare industry played a large factor in why Hawkins’s began the scheme.
Groene said to WY Daily News that Hawkins was lead by the “recognition that timeshare resorts were exploiting their timeshare owners, who were desperate to end their contractual obligations but were unable to do so.”
Wagner, whose law firm handled the transfers, plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud back on September 9, 2016. Her prison sentence will begin one full year later on September 9, 2017. Until then she is out on bond.