Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

15 people arrested in Fort Lauderdale timeshare fraud

Drug addicts worked the phones at the Fort Lauderdale firm, conning customers out of money. One of the company's founders allegedly threatened to rip off someone's face with a claw hammer. Employees went by nicknames like "Fat Patsy," "Bowling Ball" and "Patty Boy."
According to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday, that's how business was conducted at Timeshare Mega Media and Marketing Group, a timeshare resale company accused of ripping off people nationwide in a $5 million scam.
In a state known as the center of the fraud-riddled timeshare resale industry, the Timeshare Mega Media case stands out because of the sheer number of people arrested so far for their roles in the company. The indictment brings the total number of people charged to 41. Twenty-three people have taken plea deals, two are awaiting trial and one died.
The company's telemarketers preyed on timeshare owners, claiming to have buyers for their unwanted vacation rentals, but demanding up to $10,000 to secure the deals, according to the indictment. Federal authorities have been unable to find a single instance in which Timeshare Mega Media actually lined up the purchase of a timeshare.
FBI agents rounded up seven defendants early Thursday morning, including Pasquale "Posh" Pappalardo, one of the two convicted felons accused of running the company. Pappalardo, 60, was asleep in his Coral Springs home when agents came knocking at about 5:30 a.m., according to his attorney, Neil G. Taylor.
The indictment portrays Pappalardo as the driving force behind the company, knowingly hiring drug addicts and people with criminal backgrounds as telemarketers. According to federal prosecutors, Pappalardo would boast about having ties with organized crime and twice had meetings with a representative of the Gambino organized crime family to discuss timeshare resale operations.
Pappalardo "would use violence or the threats of violence" to intimidate people, including once making the hammer threat, federal prosecutors say. During Timeshare Mega Media's brief life from July 2009 to May 2010, Pappalardo received $300,000 in checks as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, according to the indictment.
Pappalardo's attorney said his client is ready to fight the government's case. Pappalardo is charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. A conviction on either charge could carry up to 20 years in prison.
"Mr. Pappalardo is not now or has he ever been a member of organized crime," Taylor said. "He adamantly disputes the allegations. If there is anything about Pasquale Pappalardo anyone will tell you, he will not run from a fight. He would consider it cowardly."
Taylor has argued that Pappalardo was a passive investor who had no role in the day-to-day operations.
In his first court appearance Thursday morning, Pappalardo pleaded not guilty. U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow granted him a $500,000 bond and ordered him to wear an electronic ankle monitor. Pappalardo was out of federal custody within hours.
Pappalardo has done federal prison time before, serving more than six years in the mid-1990s on drug, firearms and counterfeit money charges.
Of the 15 new defendants, nine appeared in court Thursday — the seven who were picked up by FBI agents and two who showed up on their own. The U.S. Attorney's Office said more arrests are expected this week.
The other co-founder of Timeshare Mega Media, Joseph "Joey Cigars" Crapella, had a criminal complaint filed against him last year, accusing him of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Crapella, 47, spent more than seven years in Florida prisons after he was convicted in 2000 of racketeering and grand theft for duping people into paying for vending machines he never delivered.
Timeshare Mega Media operated during the heyday of timeshare resale fraud in Florida. Such scams peaked in 2010 when the Florida Attorney General's Office received 12,257 timeshare resale complaints. Complaints have been on the decline since with a state law cracking down on such fraud as well as criminal prosecutions.
The new federal indictment, handed up on Feb. 28, offered a glimpse into the role organized crime may play in the timeshare resale industry.
Federal prosecutors allege Pappalardo took customer files from another timeshare company he had been involved with — Timeshare Market Pro — before forming Timeshare Mega Media. Disputes over Timeshare Market Pro prompted Pappalardo to ask a member of the Gambino crime family to appear with him at a "sit down" with another unidentified crime family, according to the indictment.
At the meeting, Pappalardo was able to convince members of both crime families that the owner of Timeshare Market Pro should not recover any money from him, court records show.
A few months after that meeting, Pappalardo allegedly met with a member of the Gambino crime family to discuss opening a Miami branch of Timeshare Mega Media, according to the indictment.



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