Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hilton Head Timeshares: Coral Resorts, Spinnaker, Marriott, and . . . Hilton? Myrtle Beach Developer Plans to Spend $80 Million to Develop Hilton Brand Timeshare on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Former Mayor of Hilton Head, Drew Laughlin, supported the deregulation of timeshares on Hilton Head Island.  He has since been voted out of office in a landslide (Bennett Buries Laughlin), but his pro-timeshare legacy lingers on Hilton Head, as timeshare developers need not apply for a special exception to build more timeshares.

A new Hilton brand timeshare is to begin construction in spring of 2015, and Hilton Grand Vacations, a division of Hilton Worldwide, will be responsible for marketing and management of the timeshare, including sales which are planned to begin in April of 2015.  The first phase is anticipated to be completed in 2016, and the second phase has no projected completion date.

With thousands of complaints of timeshare fraud on Hilton Head Island since the early 2000s being reported to the South Carolina Attorney General, Town of Hilton Head, Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, and South Carolina Real Estate Commission, along with websites like www.ripoffreport.com and www.complaintsboard.com, among other entities and websites, will Hilton turn the timeshare tide on Hilton Head Island?


My law partner, Joe DuBois, and I speak with victims of Hilton Head Island timeshare fraud on a daily basis.  Complaints of Hilton Head Island timeshare scams, lies, and ripoffs are so prevalent that we have to limit ourselves, for our own sanity, to each of us speaking with no more than several people each day. 

If you are one of the victims of a timeshare scam on Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, or elsewhere in South Carolina, please feel free to contact us to schedule a free consultation with Joe DuBois, or me, Zach Naert, in person, by phone, by Skype, or by FaceTime.  It would be our pleasure to speak with you and give you the best advice we can so that you can make a decision about what would be best for you and your family.

Zach Naert


Naert and DuBois, LLC
22 New Orleans Rd #1
Hilton Head Island, SC  29928
(843) 686-5500


#timeshareattorneys #hiltonheadtimeshareattorneys #hiltonheadtimesharelawyers #hiltonheadtimeshares #hiltonheadtimeshareripoff #hiltonheadtimesharescam #southcarolinatimeshares #southcarolinatimesharescams #hiltonheadtimesharelawfirm

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Automobile Accidents, Car Wrecks, and Car Crashes: Different Names, Same Claims: What are Your Rights in an Automobile Collision?

As a Hilton Head attorney, I frequently meet with people to discuss their legal issues arising as a result of being in a motor vehicle collision.  Because of the sudden nature of these collisions and the disrupting impact that they can have on people's lives, the people that I meet in these situations typically have many questions that they would like to discuss.  Here I will list some of the most common questions that I have heard and some general information as to each.  Of course, every legal situation is unique, so if you would like specific advice as to your particular situation, I must advise you to consult with an attorney immediately or risk possibly forever losing your rights.

Who is Legally Responsible for My Damages?

This question often arises when there is a motor vehicle collision involving two or more vehicles and, due to the type of collision, it may be unclear which driver or drivers are responsible for causing the collision.  Although in many cases, such as a rear end collision while one car is stopped at an intersection, the negligent, or responsible, driver is clear, in other cases, such as side-by-side collisions or t-bone type collisions, which driver is responsible is not so obvious.  The initial determination as to which driver is at-fault is usually made by the investigating police officer who will note his determination on the insurance form and the accident report.  Insurance companies will typically give the police officer's determination as to fault significant weight in their analysis.  However, this determination is not the final decision - ultimately, the decision is made by a judge or jury after the presentment of evidence from all parties.

What Damages am I Entitled to?

Typically the victim of a motor vehicle collision has two types of claims:  a property damage claim and a personal injury claim.  The property damage claim centers around the estimated cost to repair the damaged motor vehicle, if possible, or, alternately, if the vehicle cannot be repaired or if the estimated cost to repair the vehicle is too great, the vehicle is deemed a total-loss and the claim is for the market value of the vehicle.  Additional damages to be sought in the property damage claim can include loss of use, which often takes the form of rental-vehicle reimbursement, the value of improvements to the vehicle, and loss of value or depreciation of the repaired vehicle.  The personal injury claim centers around the cost of medical treatment of injuries sustained in the collision and may additionally include compensation for permanent physical disability, lost income due to recovery or treatment, and compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.  Typically these two types of claims are resolved by negotiated agreement with the at-fault driver's insurance company, or, alternatively, by judgment at arbitration or trial.


These are just some of the common legal issues arising from motor- vehicle collisions.  For information about other issues, or for advice specific to your particular situation, I must advise you to consult with an attorney.  Please do not accept any of the information listed above for legal advice or for any other purpose other than general information.

Joe DuBois

www.LowcountryLegal.com

Naert and DuBois, LLC, Attorneys at Law
22 New Orleans Rd #1
Hilton head Island, SC  29928
(843) 686-5500

Call us today to schedule your free consultation and case evaluation.  We are a bilingual law firm in English and Spanish.  #hiltonheadlawfirm #hiltonheadpersonalinjuryattorneys #automobile accidents

Thursday, December 18, 2014

FBI Arresting Timeshare Frauds (finally)

Some Hilton Head Island timeshare companies are known to work with at least some of the (allegedly) fraudulent timeshare transfer companies, namely Elite Equity Transfers and Resort Solutions, discussed in a recent article by Inside the Gate House located here.

Countless transactions right here on Hilton Head Island involve Elite Equity Transfers and Resort Solutions.  The complete list of the companies named in the article, though I have not heard of them on Hilton Head Island other than Elite Equity Transfers and Resort Solutions, are:  "Resort Realty, Inc., Resort Solutions, Inc., Resort Rental, K&K Property Consultants, Auction America Resort Rentals International, Royal Elite Vacations, Royal Equity Transfer, Exotic Equity Transfers, LLC, (also doing business as Elite Equity Transfers), Royal Elite Exchanges, Resort Rentals Mexico, Resort Advantage International, Timeshare Auctions USA, Resort Rentals Worldwide, Grand Premier Vacations, and Priority Exchange Network."

The scenario that I have written about extensively on this blog and that my office works with on a daily basis is described in the article as the "phony table buy-back" scam.  The article explains:

"Here’s how it worked: If an individual customer who already owned a timeshare sought to purchase a new timeshare unit from a resale or retail developer, the customer was presented with options for their existing timeshare unit. The customer could trade in the existing timeshare unit as part of the purchase, using the services of [Elite Equity Transfers] EET, which would then “transfer” the unit to a new owner or “grantee.” Alternatively, the customer could advertise the existing unit for sale or rent using the services of [Resort Solutions International] RSI."

"Got it so far?"

"According to the indictment, Kosco advertised the bundled services of RSI and EET to various resort companies. In doing so, he claimed to have created in EET one of the largest and most successful trade-in companies in the world and claimed success at transferring over 28,000 properties as of August 2012 and almost 50,000 as of September 2013. He claimed that resorts had a sales and closing increase of 15-1 8% using EET and that EET’S success was a sales tool to overcome objections if a potential buyer of a new timeshare unit already owned too many timeshare units, as EET could accomplish transfers of such units, thus, removing the timeshare obligations of the original owners."

"In truth and fact, however, EET did not accomplish the number of transfers claimed by Kosco."

The "phony table buy-back" scam allows sellers of timeshares to induce people into purchasing a new timeshare with the promise that they will be relieved of the burden of their other timeshare.  It also almost always involves the promise that the purchaser can use the proceeds from the sale of their other timeshare to pay off the loan the purchaser takes out with the seller of the new timeshare to buy the new timeshare, often approaching an interest rate of 20%.

For these reasons, the "phony table buy-back" scam is a more despicable and shameful version of the telemarketing resale scams for which people are going to prison around the country and as are also described in my previous blog here.

The "phone table buy-back" scam is a more despicable and shameful version of the telemarketing resale scam because people are not just being ripped off of $500.00 that they paid to someone over the phone to sell their timeshare and whose phone number then immediately stops working.  People are not just out $500.00 and stuck with their timeshare that timeshare transfer companies like Elite Equity Transfers and Resort Solutions fail to sell.  They are also often out many thousands of dollars for the purchase of another new, often worthless, timeshare with an interest rate approaching 20% for the thousands of additional dollars that they likely owe on the loan that they took out from the timeshare seller in order to buy the new timeshare.

Based upon the recent rash of arrests and indictments of timeshare fraudsters around the country, it appears that the FBI, Attorney Generals, and police are finalizing their investigations and taking a stand against rampant timeshare fraud.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Non-Coral Resorts Timeshare Planned for Hilton Head Island

Coral Resorts is reportedly not the developer of the new timeshare planned for Hilton Head Island noted in the Island Packet's article here:  New Timeshare Planned for Hilton Head Island.  Other developers/sellers on Hilton Head Island currently include Spinnaker Resorts and Marriott Resorts.

The South Carolina Secretary of State reports here: Vacation Time Registered Agent the registered agent for Vacation Time of Hilton Head Island, Inc. as Chester "Chet" Williams, local attorney, at 17 Executive Park Road, Suite 2, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina 29928, since January 9, 2012.

Vacation Time apparently already has their listing up on the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce Website here:  Vacation Time of Hilton Head.



Sunday, November 23, 2014

Prison for Timeshare Scam Owners and Workers

Timeshare fraudsters and scammers often target senior citizens and the elderly.  Their cons are not only shameful and despicable, but -apparently a little known fact to the many aspiring con artists and soon-to-be convicts- they are illegal and criminal.

A wave of prosecutions, convictions, and guilty pleas for timeshare scammers have recently been reported in the media and some are linked below.  9 years in prison for one.  Three others face up to 30 years in prison.  More than 14 years for another.  One more gets 5 years.  And yet another may go free after serving "just six years."

South Carolina is reported to be the state with the second or third most timeshares in the United States depending on your source from a Google search.  Thousands of people have complained of timeshare sales fraud on Hilton Head Island alone, not including other locations in South Carolina saturated with timeshares like Myrtle Beach.  The City of Charleston, South Carolina, went so far as to pass their own local timeshare ordinance.

In late 2014, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman cracked down on timeshare following reports of fraudulent timeshare sales practices and hoping to achieve greater protections for consumers.  AG Schneiderman's efforts have been well documented in the media and can be found in a Google search.

I believe that the South Carolina Attorney General's Office forwards complaints of timeshare fraud to the South Carolina Real Estate Commission.  And I am informed that the South Carolina Real Estate Commission does not have enough resources to investigate all of the complaints of timeshare fraud in South Carolina that they receive.

I am unaware of any prosecutions -ever- for timeshare fraud by the South Carolina Attorney General, and I am unaware of any action being taken by the SC AG, similar or otherwise to the NY AG, to crack down on timeshare fraud and to protect timeshare consumers in South Carolina.

Zach S. Naert

#timesharescams
#timesharefrauds
#prisonfortimesharecrime
#southcarolinatimeshare


November 14, 2014
"The leader of a Green Bay-area scheme to bilk elderly owners of timeshare properties will serve nine years in prison, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Mark Parks, 40, of Denmark, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

The scheme defrauded more than 3,000 victims in 50 states and Canada out of about $2.5 million, according to the U.S. Attorney's office."

http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/story/news/local/2014/11/14/elderly-timeshare-scam-leader-gets-prison-time/19049913/


November 5, 2014
"Three Wisconsin residents who authorities said defrauded more than 3,000 consumers in all 50 states and Canada of a combined $2.5 million in a timeshare resale telemarketing scheme have been convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

The defendants are facing up to 30 years in prison each."

http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/pi/three-wisconsin-residents-found-guilty-in-nationwide-timeshare-scam-b99384566z1-281523151.html?ipad=y


August 26, 2014
"A Charleston man pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to conspiring to defraud timeshare owners throughout the United States and Canada, according to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin’s office."

http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140826/GZ01/140829435


July 18, 2014
"A Palm Beach Gardens resident who co-managed a fraudulent timeshare unit scheme through several boiler rooms was sentenced to 170 months in prison.

Gregory Fusca, 46, was convicted of using RCI Innovations, a company he co-owned, to collect $2.6 million from hundreds of timeshare unit owners throughout the country for services that were never provided."

http://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/news/2014/07/18/owner-of-timeshare-boiler-room-fraud-scheme.html


May 2, 2014
"The former co-owner of a timeshare telemarketing company that scammed $14.5 million from over 7,000 people across the United States and Canada was sentenced in federal court here Friday to eight years in prison and fined $1,000.

Jose Manuel Goyos Jr., 27, of Jupiter, Fla., was co-owner of C&G Marketing Associates LLC, which did business as Premier Timeshare Solutions."

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/former-head-of-timeshare-scam-gets-prison-from-judge-in/article_d5a4872b-0fc4-5abf-b38b-d674918499d2.html


January 30, 2014
"Pasquale Pappalardo, 60, also known as “Pasty U Patso” and “Posh”, was convicted in November of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In his sentencing, the man was ordered to pay $1.06 million in restitution and forfeit $3.5 million."

http://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/blog/morning-edition/2014/01/timeshare-fraudster-gets-prison-sentence.html?page=all


March 12, 2013
"Recovering alcoholic Gerald William Clarke promises he's sober and eager to pay back all of the dozens of elderly people across the country he scammed in a 2010-11 Delray Beach-based timeshare fraud scheme.

"I was extremely reckless and extremely careless," Clarke, 53, testified Monday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, asking for probation instead of a prison sentence. "I really, really thought I was getting into this business to help people."

But Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal, during a hearing that concluded Tuesday, said "Bill" Clarke must pay for his crimes by being locked up for five years, followed by five years of probation and full restitution."

http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2013-03-12/news/fl-timeshare-fraud-sentencing-20130312_1_timeshare-fraud-timeshare-resale-delray-beach-man


January 14, 2013
"But Michael E. Kelly could be freed from federal custody this week having served just six years behind bars."

http://www.suntimes.com/news/16977050-418/timeshare-scam-defendant-could-go-free-after-just-six-years-in-prison.html#.VHIqSmK9KSM

Monday, November 17, 2014

B. Dean Pierce, Coral Resorts, and Cordillo Tennis Courts

Coral Resorts is a timeshare company on Hilton Head Island with four (4) locations:  Island Links, Coral Reef, Port O'Call, and Coral Sands (www.thecoralresorts.com).  B. Dean Pierce is the CEO and General Counsel of Coral Resorts and Reba Management, a property management company for Coral Resorts (www.scequality.org/about_sc_equality/board_of_directors/).  B. Dean Pierce informed Mayor Drew Laughlin in an e-mail dated May 28, 2014, that B. Dean Pierce is also President of the Homeowners Association Boards for Island Links and Coral Sands, two (2) of Coral Resorts' four (4) locations (e-mail obtained by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request to the Town of Hilton Head Island).

Until now, HHI Investment Company, LLC was a mystery company that I discussed in a recent blog here: HHI Investment Company, LLC: Mystery Timeshare Developer?  B. Dean Pierce swore on September 16, 2014, that he was the current owner of two Cordillo properties, 104 Cordillo Parkway Units J-7 and C-5.  As owner, B. Dean Pierce authorizes David Cook to act as B. Dean Pierce's agent for the purpose of a work application, and David Cook submits Certifications listing the owner as "HHI Investment Co." and "HHI Investments Co." (documents obtained by FOIA Request to the Town of Hilton Head Island.)

The Beaufort County Register of Deed's Office shows that HHI Investment Company, LLC owns those same two (2) units at 104 Cordillo Parkway, Units J-7 and C-5.  The Register of Deeds Office also shows that HHI Investment Company, LLC has purchased approximately fifty (50) units under the same Horizontal Property Regime, the Sea Cabin Racquet Club. (http://www.bcgov.net/departments/Real-Property-Services/register-of-deeds/index.php).

The total number of investors in HHI Investment Company, LLC and their identities are generally unknown to the public.  B. Dean Pierce, as mentioned hereinabove, is the CEO and General Counsel of Coral Resorts.  HHI Investment Company, LLC uses Post Office Box 5686 on the Deed to Unit J-7, and a Google search for Post Office Box 5686 on Hilton Head reveals that the same is used by Coral Resorts for some or all of its four (4) resorts, Coral Sands, Coral Reef, Island Links, and Port O'Call.

Recently, as discussed by the Island Packet here: http://www.islandpacket.com/2014/10/23/3387796/tennis-court-sale-should-be-examined.html, the Town of Hilton Head nearly sold to the homeowners associations the Cordillo tennis courts for $15,000.00.  Here, http://www.islandpacket.com/2014/07/11/3207704/hilton-head-mayor-was-paid-to.html, the Island Packet details that Drew Laughlin, also Mayor of Hilton Head, represents or represented Coral Resorts and the homeowners associations of Coral Resorts' properties.



    

Saturday, October 18, 2014

10,000 Page View Anniversary for our Naert and DuBois, LLC Blog!

Hilton Head timeshare fraud and mayoral corruption have proven to be extremely hot topics and key subjects in the success of our small law firm's blog on legal topics and local items of interest.  As our page views sit at 9,999 at this very moment, I thought I would take a few minutes to summarize some of the notable page view numbers associated with our blog that launched just a bit over a year ago on July 24, 2013.

Our most recent blog post here analyzing whether two (2) mystery companies, Ephesian Ventures, LLC and HHI Investment Company, LLC are shells for timeshare developers; linking HHI Investment Company, LLC to a local timeshare developer; and linking the Town's recent attempted sale of some tennis courts valued at $675,000.00 to HHI Investment Company, LLC for $15,000.00 while the mayor represents and/or represented a local timeshare company, which curiously has the same post office box address as HHI Investment Company, LLC, as a private attorney and has been friends with the local timeshare company's founder for more than twenty-five (25) years, has received 120 views in the last three (3) days.

Political corruption reportedly runs rampant in the state of South Carolina, with incessant reports of corruption in the Governor's office, our courts, and our local government at seemingly all levels, and Hilton Head Island appears to be no exception.  Hilton Head also has the shameful reputation of being a hot spot for rampant and egregious timeshare fraud, thousands of complaints of the same of timeshare sales fraud being publicly available from government entities by FOIA request and on websites like www.ripoffreport.comwww.complaintsboard.com, and other similar complaint websites.

Strikingly, by far and away our most popular blog post to date is Cancel Your Timeshare Contract in South Carolina with 934 page views.  It is followed by How to Get Our of a Timeshare in South Carolina with 567 page views and then Joe for Mayor of Hilton Head? Responsible Tourism In and For Our Communities: Timeshares, Resorts, and Beyond with 500 page views.

In the last two (2) years, I have heard and read thousands of complaints of timeshare fraud on Hilton Head Island, and nearly very day I hear and read more of the exact same.  Folks regularly ask me how I could possibly know exactly what happened to them, how they were defrauded on Hilton Head Island, after they read my blog posts.  And I have to sadly inform them that it is no mystery.  That this is not just the first, tenth, one hundredth, or one thousandth time I have heard or read this same story.  But that their story of timeshare fraud on Hilton Head Island is one with which I am intimately familiar.

The next question is inevitable:  why are these timeshare companies allowed to continue to operate on our lovely Island?  And the short answer is that our Mayor represents certain timeshare factions as a private attorney and refuses to take any action as Mayor to do what is right, to protect Hilton Head Island's reputation, and to protect the vacationers that we so dearly depend upon to sustain our economy.  But the mayor election is fast approaching.

Here is an unscientific poll for the upcoming Hilton Head Island mayoral election on November 4, 2014, with Joe DuBois, my law partner, closely following the current Mayor running for re-election after his first and, hopefully, last four (4) year term.  Let your voice be heard and vote for Joe on the internet poll and, more importantly, vote for Joe on November 4, 2014!  More information about Joe DuBois' campaign for Mayor of Hilton Head Island can be found on his campaign website at www.Joe4Mayor2014.com.

Zach Naert

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ephesian Ventures, LLC and HHI Investment Company, LLC: Mystery Timeshare Developers?

Ephesian Ventures, LLC and homeowners at Edgewater on Broad Creek on Hilton Head Island have been embroiled in a lawsuit relating to property bought up by Ephesian Ventures, LLC from a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding on May 9, 2007, the purchase price being:  $9,000,000.00.  In case you get lost in the zeros, that's nine million dollars.  I previously wrote on this subject here:  Ephesian Ventures, LLC to Build Timeshares at Edgwater on Broad Creek, Hilton Head Island?

This matter of public interest was also written about by the Island Packet, Hilton Head Island's esteemed newspaper, here: Ephesian Ventures, LLC and Edgewater by Broad Creek and here: Edgewater Eyesore.  Following a mayoral debate on the evening of October 15, 2014, the Island Packet wrote about another mystery taking shape on Hilton Head Island here:  Town of Hilton Head to Sell $675,000.00 Tennis Courts for $15,000.00.  The subject was brought to light in another recent Island Packet article here:  Tennis Court Asking Price Too Low?

During the mayoral debate, I believe all four (4) of the candidates vying to dethrone Drew Laughlin from his mayoral service of Hilton Head Islanders disagreed with the sale of the tennis courts.  Some boldly questioned why in the world this deal was contemplated and why a tennis court valued at $675,000.00 and purchased for $250,000.00 recently in 2002 was now on its way to be sold for $15,000.00.  For those lost in zeros again, that is six hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and fifteen thousand dollars.

The tennis courts were proposed to be sold for $15,000.00 to the homeowners associations of The Hedges, Cordillo Courts II, and/or the Sea Cabin Racquet Club.  Curiously, the Beaufort County Register of Deeds office shows that one mystery company, HHI Investment Company, LLC, has very recently and heavily invested in purchasing units at the Sea Cabin Racquet Club, and I count at least fifty (50) since January of 2014. The South Carolina Secretary of State's Office online website shows Sean Keefer as the registered agent, a Charleston attorney at 1643B Savannah Highway, Charleston, South Carolina 29407.  No help there in discovering the identity of the investor.

However, Hilton Head Realtor Mike Powers has represented HHI Investment Company, LLC on the board of the homeowners association resulting from the recent influx of Sea Cabin purchases by the company.  And Mike Powers has a few testimonials endorsing him on his website and at least a couple from known affiliates of a particular Hilton Head Island timeshare company.  When I pulled a copy of one of the transfer deeds from the Beaufort County Register of Deed's Office, it shows that HHI Investment Company, LLC has a local post office box numbered 5686 on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  Now we are getting somewhere.

That post office box number sure sounded familiar to me, so I did a Google search, and you'll never believe what I discovered!  Then do a Google search for the Mayor of Hilton Head's affiliation with timeshare companies.  Did I mention that although HHI Investment Company, LLC owns almost exclusively Sea Cabin units on Hilton Head, it happens to also own a unit at Edgewater on Broad Creek?  Mystery upon mystery.

Zach Naert

#hiltonheadtimeshare
#hiltonheadtenniscourts
#Ephesian Ventures
#PObox5686



Friday, September 26, 2014

Hilton Head Island: Timeshare Scam Capital of the World?

Seemingly endless complaints of timeshare fraud on the small island of Hilton Head have been relentlessly reported since at least the early 2000s. No one doubts that timeshare fraud is real and rampant; however, Federal, State, and Local governments have failed to address what has become a glaring and embarrassing blight for Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and other communities.
Is Hilton Head Island the timeshare scam capital of the World? Only the United States? Or just South Carolina? The egregiousness of the reported fraudulent activity and overwhelming numbers of reported timeshare fraud are astonishing, startling, and just plain shameful.

Before the internet became widely used and easily accessible, timeshare companies could conduct their fraudulent activities without fear, hiding in plain sight, keeping their fraudulent practices secret. Ineffectual and incompetent government regulatory entities offered no meaningful assistance to timeshare fraud victims. Attorneys General largely ignored the criminal elements of the timeshare fraud (but note that the New York Attorney General has very recently taken some action and many are now being prosecuted and imprisoned for timeshare resale scams). Timeshare fraudsters had little to fear.

And then the internet gave everyone a voice. Timeshare fraud victims' complaints were not destined to be filed away by an impotent or corrupt bureaucrat or tallied in a back office of the Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau now maintains records on timeshare companies online. Two of the three known timeshare developers on Hilton Head Island have "F" ratings with the Better Business Bureau and have 295 and 85 complaints, respectively, reported to the Better Business Bureau in the last three (3) years alone. Those numbers are staggering and appalling, but you cannot view the actual complaints or the substance of the complaints.

The Better Business Bureau is not a government agency. The Federal Trade Commission, however, is a government agency. Anyone can send a letter (also known as a Freedom of Information Act Request) to the Federal Trade Commission requesting complaints of timeshare fraud on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and anywhere else. In the case of Hilton Head Island, you will receive thousands of pages of complaints.

You can read one or you can read them all. But they are all similar or the same in substance. Should you have the heart to read too many of the complaints, themes will develop: the same lies are complained of; the same people and timeshare companies are complained of; the same fraudulent tactics are reported; the same senior citizens and the elderly are being targeted and having their bank accounts and retirement savings emptied.

The complaints from the Federal Trade Commission will be sent to you in nicely formatted form pages with typed information. Impersonal. Inhuman. But should you send a Freedom of Information Act Request to other government entities like the Town of Hilton Head Island, you should receive what I received: handwritten letters from the elderly pleading for help and detailing the outrageous timeshare fraud. They sadly note their late age, ashamed that they were taken by timeshare fraudsters, in despair that they are now without their retirement savings and living on fixed incomes. Instead of enjoying their hard earned golden years, they now have to work for their survival until they are room temperature.

Timeshare fraud is real. It is not a game where a timeshare company should be permitted to do whatever it takes to get the senior citizen to sign on the bottom line and hand over their credit card. Timeshare companies do not accidentally defraud people. There is no excuse for timeshare fraud, not even the tens of millions of dollars of income some timeshare companies make each and every year. Not the Mercedes and BMWs. Not the $5,000,000.00 homes. Not the freedom to live and do whatever one can imagine in a lifetime with seemingly limitless wealth.

The victims of timeshare fraud are more frequently taking their fight to the Courts, and they are quite frequently taking their complaints to the internet. Aside from making Freedom of Information Act requests to government entities, you can easily access seemingly endless complaints of timeshare fraud on the internet at www.ripoffreport.com, www.complaintsboard.com, www.redweek.com, www.pissedconsumer.com, www.tugbbs.com, and on and on and on. Most folks do not reasonably have enough time to read all of the complaints for Hilton Head Island alone, much less the entire State of South Carolina or the United States.

It is possible that all of the complaints of timeshare fraud are just a well coordinated conspiracy of senior citizens since the early 2000s to defame the timeshare industry. However, that possibility is just as likely as pigs flying and Hell freezing over. Yet, confronted with undeniable reports of timeshare fraud, the Federal, State, and Local government largely does absolutely nothing.
Why? That will be left to another blog post where I will review and analyze the motivations of individuals and entities, including timeshare sales people, the residents of communities where timeshares are located, Federal, State, and Local publicly elected officials, Federal, State, and Local entities and regulatory agencies, and the media.

Need Hilton Head attorneys? For more information, please visit our Hilton Head lawyers on the web at: www.LowcountryLegal.com

#hiltonheadtimeshare
#timeshareattorneys
#timesharefraudisshameful












Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Unpaid Wages, Wage Claims, and Overtime in South Carolina

Employers usually pay their employees the wages owed to the employees for the hours worked. However, it is not entirely uncommon for employers to fail or refuse to properly pay their employees. Employees in South Carolina do have the right to be paid what they are owed and to be paid on time under various laws including the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and common law.

Sometimes employers do not properly pay their employees because they are simply bad actors. They know they owe their employees, they have the funds with which to pay, yet they refuse to pay. Sometimes the employer and employee agree that wages are owed, but the employer just refuses to pay, and the employee often quits. Other times the employer intentionally miscalculates and manipulates the employee's wage math and denies that any monies are owed.

It is much less common for employers not to pay their employees due to strict negligence, such as simply forgetting to run payroll or not transferring monies from one account to another to ensure available funds for direct deposit payments on pay day. Under those scenarios, it is unlikely that employees will seek legal recourse or legal advice and more likely that they would simply communicate with their employer to obtain payment.

Often employers do not pay their employees because they do not have the funds with which to pay their employees. Running a business is tough. An employer or owner could have personal financial difficulties and raid the business's operating bank account to pay for personal financial obligations. Many businesses do not have loans or lines of credit to operate their businesses in the case that there is a deficiency when it comes time to make payroll. If the business's customers or clients have not paid their bills, the employer may not be financially solvent to pay the employees.

Under any scenario, the employee has the right to be paid the amount owed and to be paid on time in South Carolina. Believe it or not: South Carolina has a law that protects employees. But what can employees do to protect themselves? After having consulted with countless individuals with wage claims in my mere five years as an attorney, I have found that there are some simple precautions that any employee can take to help their cause and assist in any future legal recourse.

1. Keep Track of Your Hours: Employees often put in their time and leave their documentation of their time worked and the dates on which they worked with the employer. They may fill out a timesheet, punch a clock, or sign into a computer to track their time. Under that scenario, if an employee alleges that their time has been altered or that they have not been paid in full, they have no documentation of their hours or dates worked, and they must rely solely upon the employer's records.

2. Document Communications: Do not simply have an offhand conversation with an employer or the employer's secretary regarding your wages. Send your employer an e-mail or a test message. Write your employer a letter and maybe even send it certified mail. Maybe record your conversation (but consult with a criminal attorney about the laws regarding recording conversations first, as every state has different laws and it can be a felony under certain scenarios). Otherwise, the employer may just deny your allegations.

3. Save a Copy: Keep a copy of any contract you may have with your employer. Few have contracts, but some do have simple written contracts. It is not uncommon that folks consult with me about monies owed to them for work completed believing that they were employees; however, they may be classified as independent contractors, and instead of a wage claim, they may have a breach of contract claim. However, they often work without any written instruction or details regarding the terms and conditions of the work or payment for the same.

4. Did I Mention to Make a Written Record?: Otherwise, it will be your word against your employer's word, potentially. Would your employer lie about you being an employee? Would your employer lie about the dates and hours you worked? About altering your timekeeping? Not the same employer that failed to get you medical attention when you were hurt on the job, fired you for getting hurt, and refused to pay you your last paycheck. Would your employer do that? Yes. These people do exist.

5. Use Common Sense: Why are you still working if your employer has not paid you for weeks or months? Has your employer been behind on paying you for weeks and months, making partial payments? Have you waited 6 months before consulting with an attorney? There are statutes of limitations on your wage claims, so you should immediately consult with an attorney or you may forever lose your rights.

I hope some of this information and my thoughts may be helpful. If you would like to discuss your wage claim, pay situation, or employment matter, please do not hesitate to contact us to arrange a free consultation. We are employment attorneys in Hilton Head SC and our employment lawyers Hilton Head also serve clients throughout the Lowcountry, including, Bluffton, Charleston and many other communities throughout the South Carolina Lowcountry.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

American Resort Development Association (timeshares): What is ARDA?

Timeshares are big business in South Carolina, as South Carolina has the most timeshares than any other state in the United States excepting Florida. An industry so large in South Carolina with billions of dollars at stake, lobbying by the American Resorts Development Association (ARDA) is also big business in South Carolina.

ARDA has played some role in attempts to pass various laws in South Carolina since at least 2009, according to ARDA's website. Below I have listed some information from the South Carolina State Ethics Commission relating to ARDA's lobbyists in South Carolina and contributions made by ARDA for certain candidates, offices, and dates thereof.

ARDA's South Carolina lobbyists include:

Fred Allen for American Resort Development Association; (803) 254-5626; Post Office Box 12070, Columbia, South Carolina 29211

Baylen T. Moore for American Resort Development Association; (803) 513-2619 7001 Saint Andrews Road 316, Columbia, South Carolina 29212

Whitney K. Williams of American Resort Development Association; (803) 254-5626; Post Office Box 12070, Columbia, South Carolina 29211

ARDA's (including ARDA PAC and ARDA ROC-PAC) South Carolina contributions for candidates, offices, and election dates therefor as reported by the South Carolina State Ethics Commission include:

1. Grand Strand Statewide PAC
2. Peter M. McCoy, Jr., for State House Representative on November 6, 2012
3. Senate Republican Caucus Committee
4. Senate Republican Caucus Committee
5. House Democratic Caucus Committee
6. Senate Republican Caucus Committee
7. Nikki G. Setzler for State Senate on November 4, 2008
8. Nikki G. Setzler for State Senate on November 8, 2016
9. Harry L. Ott for State House Representative 11/02/2010
10. Grady A. Brown, Sr., for State House Representative on June 9, 2010
11. William M. Hixon for State House Representative on June 8, 2010
12. William M. Hixon for State House Representative on June 1, 2012
13. Michael A. Pitts for State House Representative on June 12, 2012
14. Laurie S. Funderburk for State House Representative on November 6, 2012

ARDA is based Washington D.C. and represents timeshares, including owners' associations, property management companies, and others. ARDA monitors regulations of the timeshare industry and invests in lobbying efforts intending to obtain favorable laws and legislation for timeshare companies and others, presumably exclusively on behalf of its members.

It is sometimes difficult to discover who represents the people in the political process. One will often find that public officials elected for office perpetuate and support the positions and interests of their donors. It is no secret that money is a very large influence on the political process.

In my college education and pursuit of a Political Science Honors Degree from Winthrop University, I learned that one of the oldest tricks in the books is for individuals and entities to make donations to both side of the political spectrum and both of the most likely candidates to be elected into office. In this way, the interests of the individual or entity will be represented regardless as to how the election results. In the 2010 Hilton Head Mayoral Race, timeshare affiliates made contributions to both of the runoff candidates.

In the United States, we have a two party political system that most often guarantees that either a republican or democratic nominee will be elected into political office. For fans of The Wire, you will remember that an entire season focused on Tommy Carcetti's race against incumbent Mayor Royce to be the democratic party's nominee for Mayor of Baltimore. Carcetti won and the next thing you know he is Mayor. The Wire skipped the election entirely because Carcetti was essentially guaranteed to become Mayor with the broad support in Baltimore for the Democratic Party.

These are my musings for the day. I will let you consider how these matters affect South Carolina and the timeshare industry in South Carolina.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hilton Head Timeshare Scams Relentlessly Reported in Appalling Numbers: Government Fails the People

Timeshare fraud on Hilton Head Island is being and has been relentlessly reported to the Federal Trade Commission and Mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island; however, federal, state, and local government officials have failed to take action and some in the government appear to actively support the timeshares. I believe that all complaints to government entities in South Carolina are forwarded to the South Carolina Real Estate Commission which appears to summarily issue letters stating that they have no authority to act. This is, of course, curious, being that the Commission is the sole entity charged with the enforcement of the South Carolina Timeshare Act. It seems that policies within the Real Estate Commission changed after Governor Nikki Haley was voted into office and appointed some new folks. FitsNews.com covered it here.

More complaints of timeshare scams on Hilton Head Island have been reported to federal, state, and local government entities and officials than anyone reasonably has time to read. Having read hundreds of these complaints, I will tell you that you can read a few or several timeshare complaints and stop; it becomes dreadfully repetitive. Just multiply those complaints by a very large denominator in your mind and fathom: what if these complaints are not a coordinated conspiracy of senior citizens and elderly folk spanning more than a decade to harm the reputable timeshare industry?

As likely as it may be that there is a secret order of aged individuals to defame reputable industries and businesses like timeshares, I just can't say for sure. Moreover, I have no personal experience being defrauded by a timeshare company and cannot verify any of the hundreds and hundreds of complaints against timeshare companies in South Carolina and Hilton Head Island.

You can send a Freedom of Information Act Request (a letter asking the government to send the complaints to you) to the FTC for Hilton Head Island alone and receive thousands of pages of complaints of timeshare fraud and review those to your satisfaction; they are publicly available. However, there is also this new thing that people use to get information called the interwebs or world wide net, something to that effect, where people can obtain seemingly endless information, including timeshare complaints, instantly.

RipoffReport.com is one of a number of Internet websites where victims of scams and frauds report the same. In the search box in the upper right-hand corner, I typed in "Hilton Head," and 260 complaints appeared. As for most recent complaints, I see one this month already, six in July, and nine in June. Wow. This is just one website. I am already shocked to see so many complaints about my small town.

Further cursory review reveals that 21 of the 25 complaints on Page 1 appear to be timeshare and vacation related, 15 of 25 on Page 2, 16 of 25 on Page 3, 14 of 25 on Page 4, and 19 of 25 on Page 5. I just can't bring myself to count anymore, so I type this blog entry in dismay.

Having been raised in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and educated solely in South Carolina, I have, or had, great pride for my state. However, since I have somewhat recently become aware of the relentlessly overwhelming and continuing complaints of scams and fraud in my state and my town, and so many being timeshare complaints, the feeling of South Carolina pride that I held my whole life has been replaced by feelings of shame, embarrassment, and disgrace.

I do not believe I need to recount all of the shameful and regrettable incidents and periods of time in South Carolina's history. My state is all too often the butt of a good joke. So the question is: how much longer will we permit our state to be trounced by others? How much longer will we turn a blind eye to the overwhelming tidal wave of complaints of timeshare scams and frauds?

I am informed that South Carolina has the second most timeshare companies in the United States to Florida. How much longer until we are known as the timeshare ripoff capital of the United States? Maybe I should get used to those jokes.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ephesian Ventures, LLC to Build Timeshares at Edgewater on Broad Creek, Hilton Head Island?

On June 13, 2014, Mr. Pat Duggar, Vice President of the Board of the Directors from the Residences on Edgewater off Marshland Road on Hilton Head Island, wrote to Steven Riley, Hilton Head Town Manager, regarding the effects of certain proposed revisions to the land-management ordinances. Mr. Duggar states: "we vehemently object and oppose the increase in density for WMU district from 12 units per acre to 16 units per acre" in Hilton Head's new land-management ordinance zoning draft.
Broad Creek Edgewater, LP, a residential community off Marshland Road on Hilton Head Island, was placed in Chapter 7 bankruptcy on May 9, 2007. For $9,000,000.00, Ephesian Ventures, LLC purchased 16.01 and 7.64 acres of land from the bankruptcy trustee for Broad Creek Edgewater, LP, and a Quit Claim Deed was filed with the Beaufort County Register of Deed's Office on July 7, 2008.

Ephesian Ventures, LLC was registered with the South Carolina Secretary of State's Office as a Foreign LLC on June 11, 2008. On June 3, 2008, an Ephesian Ventures, LLC was registered as a Nevada limited liability company. A Google search reveals reports that K. Michael Barfield, attorney affiliated with the Coral Resorts timeshares on Hilton Head Island, is or was a manager of the Ephesian Ventures, LLC of Nevada. Thomas Vernon, attorney formerly affiliated with Coral Resorts timeshares, is the registered agent for Ephesian Ventures, LLC of South Carolina.

The Residences on Edgewater total twenty-three (23) units and are adjoined by an unfinished and apparently abandoned pool and building. As a result of the proposed density change, Mr. Duggar argues that "[n]eighborhoods like ours, with adjoining, unfinished construction sites, would change from a reasonable density to something more like a nightmare. Our adjoining site is to be timeshares."

In Early 2011, Residences on Edgewater obtained permission from The Town of Hilton Head to construct a tabby walkway and brick areas outside the twenty (23) unit building. The Town permitted the same, and construction began. Shortly thereafter, Chester C. Williams, Esquire, on behalf of Ephesian Ventures, LLC, opposed the construction, and the Town rescinded permission as to the tabby walkway and brick areas and voided approval for the pool.

Michael Mogil, Esquire, attorney for Edgewater Homeowners Association, requested an appeal, which was continued several times by agreement with Ephesian Ventures, LLC. At a July 20, 2011, Town of Hilton Head Planning Commission Meeting, Mr. Mogil informed the Commissioners and town staff that he had the previous day filed a lawsuit in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas relating to the appeal. As a result, the parties agreed and the Planning Commission passed a motion that the appeal be continued until the Court of Common Pleas issues a decision in Mr. Mogil's recently-filed lawsuit.

Since the filing of the lawsuit, Stephen Spitz, Esquire, has appeared as counsel for Ephesian Ventures, LLC, and Ward Borden, Esquire, has appeared as counsel for Edgewater on Broad Creek Owners Association, Inc. The status of the litigation is unknown, but stay tuned for Part II where I will review the Courthouse filings. I am informed that a hearing relating to this matter is scheduled at Hilton Head Town Hall on August 26, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. All of the information contained herein is from publicly available documents on the internet and by FOIA.




Monday, April 28, 2014

Overtime Pay in South Carolina

More than forty hours a week, whew! That is a lot of time to work on a weekly basis, but we do it. And the law recognizes both of the same. Employers may be required to pay overtime to an employee who works more than forty hours in a weekly pay period. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) discusses the rules and regulations relating to overtime pay. But when it looks like an employer may be required to pay overtime to its employee, there may well be an exception to the general rule that exculpates the employer from the overtime pay requirement, as is often the case with agricultural labor and migrant farmworkers.

I often hear from people that they are paid by their employer as an independent contractor, that no taxes are taken out or paid by the employer, and they are issued a 1099 each year for tax purposes. This type of unscrupulous behavior by employers results in additional burdens upon the employee and benefits to the employer that the employer is not otherwise entitled to under the law and the employee should not rightly have to bear under the law. People who believe they are misclassified as independent contractors by their employer and should correctly be classified and paid as an employee may file a request with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate and determine whether the person is an employee or independent contractor.

Presuming that your employer at least has you correctly classified as an employee and not as an independent contractor, I often hear from people that they work more than forty hours a week and are not compensated for their work. It is not so common that folks work more than forty hours a week and are compensated at their normal rate of pay, but it is much more common that people are simply not compensated at all for work above and beyond forty hours. Sometimes people believe that since they are paid on a salary basis that they are not entitled to any overtime pay or have their own conceptions and understandings of justifications for the non-payment.

Most commonly, people are often not compensated at all for work above forty hours a week because the employer is unscrupulous and the employee works at the mercy of the employer. Due to socioeconomic conditions and other circumstances, the employee may have little or no choice and must continue working under these absurd conditions. Employers may pay their employees a flat rate for a day's worth of work, for a week, or for a particular job, and without reference or concern as to the number of hours worked in the pay period or the law. The employee may even be required to clock out upon reaching forty hours for the week, and the employer may well pay in cash to avoid detection and evidence of the same.

The FLSA is one law that may provide a legal remedy to an aggrieved employee. Also relevant and possibly helpful would be the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act which provides for treble, or triple damages, and attorneys' fees, costs, and expenses. Are you entitled to overtime pay for hours worked above and beyond forty in a week? Are you correctly classified as an employee or misclassified as an independent contractor? If you have any questions, feel free to contact our employment attorneys in Hilton Head or Charleston, SC.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Timeshare Rentals: The Biggest Lie of Them All?

South Carolina timeshare law prohibits timeshare sales people from lying to potential purchasers, or marks. However, that does not stop timeshare sales people from making fraudulent statements to marks or targets. Specifically, South Carolina timeshare law prohibits timeshare sales people from telling targets that the timeshare is an investment or that the target will somehow profit from rental income. A simple Google search will reveal more reports of these lies told by timeshare sales people in South Carolina and on Hilton Head Island that anyone reasonably has time to review.

Telling folks that their timeshare purchase will be an investment, something that will make the buyer money, is wrong. Promising folks that they will profit from their purchase through rental income is also wrong. These two lies are particularly abhorrent because, not only does the person buying the timeshare lose when they exchange their money for a timeshare (I have seen Hilton Head Island timeshares sell for $1.00 on eBay), but the person also loses out on the promised rental income from the timeshare.

The timeshare company may mislead the purchaser into believing that the timeshare company will actually rent out or sell the purchaser's timeshare on the purchaser's behalf. It makes no sense, of course. If the timeshare company could rent out someone's timeshare week for a profit above and beyond the purchase price, why would they sell them to people instead of renting out the weeks for themselves? Regardless, this lie is told, and you can find it reported time and time again about timeshare companies and sales people in South Carolina and on Hilton Head Island for over a decade.

The keys to the scam include putting off the purchaser until the rescission period has expired and then telling the purchaser that he or she must contact the sales person directly in order to list the timeshare week for rental/sale. After the rescission period, the sales person simply stops answering his or her phone, returning your calls, and responding to your e-mails. When you call the office, the sales person is not available or no longer works there, of course. You may even make an appointment to see the sales person, and when you arrive, you discover that the sales person will not be attending the scheduled meeting because, well, you can make up the reason.

But the most effective key to the scam is using phantom discounts to the purchase price to con the purchaser into believing he or she is receiving some rental monies upfront and that they are being applied to the purchase price as a discount at purchase. For instance, if the purchaser is promised $2,000.00 a year in rental income for the annual timeshare week, the sales person may reduce the initial purchase price from $20,000.00 to $14,000.00, telling you that the timeshare company is going ahead and paying you the $2,000.00 rental income for the first three years as the basis for the $6,000.00 discount.

Of course, this is a lie. And what the mark does not know is that the sales person has the discretion to reduce the sales price and is simply making the reduction in price and telling you that the reduction represents the first three years' rental income. This could put you off for three years or more before you might inquire further about the rental income. Not only does that get you past the rescission period, but some statutes of limitations are three years. Are you still waiting for the check in the mail from the timeshare sales person for the rental or sale of your timeshare week?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Workers' Compensation: Employees Must Look Out for Themselves

The most common scenario in a South Carolina workers' compensation matter involves a simple on-the-job injury in South Carolina to an employer of a South Carolina business. The employee's job often involves laborious tasks and strenuous labor. The employee is injured and tells his or her supervisor. The supervisor takes the employee to get treated at the local emergency department.

After that, things can get a little fuzzy. The employee is often injured such that he or she cannot immediately return to work and must remain out of work under the doctor's orders for a certain period of time. The employee does not report to the worksite and will call a supervisor, crew leader, or employer to report the absence. Paid time off may not be available, and the employee will remain out of work and without pay. With little or no communication from the employer, no income, and medical bills piling up, the employee will reach out to a lawyer. Finally!

The primary concern of any any workers' compensation attorney should be in obtaining the proper medical treatment for the attorney's client. The attorney will need to notify the Workers' Compensation Commission and employer's workers' compensation insurance company. The employer's insurance company should pay for any medical treatment for employee. But what is the employer's name again? And the insurance company should pay 2/3 of the employee's average weekly wage if the employee is out of work under doctor's orders for a certain period of time. But how much was the employee being paid?

The attorney for the employee receives a response from the employer's workers' compensation insurance company's insurance adjuster: "Dear Sir, I have consulted with my client, the employer, and the employer is not aware that your client is an employee." What? OK. The attorney calls the client and asks the client/employee to bring in a pay stub (or take a photo with the client's cell phone and e-mail it to the attorney, right?). But the employee doesn't get paid by check. Only in cash.

The client gets paid in cash only. OK. How about an employment contract. No. An e-mail? No. This is a manual labor job, not a desk job. A hand-written letter? Maybe the employer and employee are pen pals. No. Maybe the other employees will testify contrary to their employer. Hilarious. All avenues exhausted, it's just the employee's word against the employer's word.

The employer has protected itself by paying the employee in cash, not providing paystubs or a contract, and intimidating its employees to testify on its behalf. What has the employee done? Often nothing. Owning no bank account, there is no record of any regular deposits of the money paid by the employer to employee in cash and there is no record of employment. The employee faces a very difficult battle at a workers' compensation hearing when trying to prove he or she was an employee of employer, was injured on the job, reported the injury in time and to the right person, and was paid a certain weekly wage.

Employees should obtain some proof of their employment with employer, though it will almost certainly not be an employment contract, it may be a pay stub, e-mail, text message, letter, or anything whatsoever that would support the employee's assertion that he or she was an employee of the employer when the employee was injured. A record of pay is also helpful, whether it is handwritten or evidenced by regular deposits on pay days. Any documentation and information is helpful to the employee and claimant in a workers' compensation claim.

There are a lot of injustices in this world. An unscrupulous employer putting its employees in such a situation is certainly wrong, and employees must take measures to protect themselves. But if they do not, no one will revolt. There will not be riots in the streets. But the employee may be stuck without the benefits available to him or her under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act. Please feel free to contact our attorneys to discuss any concerns you may have with your employer.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Timeshare Resorts Sky High and Neon Flashing Lights in My Eye, Oh My!

Towering timeshare resorts, flashing neon signs, cut throat priced all-you-can-eat buffets, knock off .99 cent souvenirs, and, well, you get the point. This is not Hilton Head, yet, at least, thankfully. But I did recently visit Florida. It was my mistake, really. Grapefruit League baseball or not. My Cardinals did win both games, yes. And a very nice Astros reliever gave my son his first baseball. So there were certainly some highlights, no doubt. But is this what I have to look forward to? Will this be Hilton Head 2020?

I stayed at an undisclosed timeshare (front) hotel to get the timeshare experience which I have never had personally. This appeared to be the hotel where families unwittingly purchased mini vacation packages for discounted rates in exchange for their taking a timeshare tour or "real estate presentation." I walked into the front lobby with my infant son and Mother and checked in. I was directed to the Guest Services desk to my right. No, not the one to the left, the one to the right. This is where they are supposed to rope me into a timeshare tour.

The lady behind the counter was wearing black-rimmed glasses with fake diamond studs on the outer edges. Her skin was crackly and she looked 20 years older than she probably really was. She spoke and sounded like a frog after she wiped the frappa-whatever from her lips. I could taste the cigarettes from across the counter. Mmmmm! She glanced at me. Then my mother. Then my son. "Here you go," she said. It was a folder with general information. "That's it?," I said. "Yes," she said, "we just make sure it is all correct." Disappointing.

Apparently I did not "qualify" for the tour. By qualify, I mean, they were sizing me up, pursuant to their timeshare guidelines, as to whether they could likely persuade or harass me into buying a timeshare. Or maybe they have me on the "do not tour" list. They should by now. Normal "qualifications" for a tour include attributes such as a mediocre to average household income, married or living together, and whatever other requirements that guide them in this decision-making process. No matter. She directed me to the second Guest Services desk. Hope still!

The guy was nice enough. He changed my dollar for some quarters to play my Mother in Galaga later on. My Mother is really good and taught me the Galaga ropes. The guy said something about discount tickets, etcetera, it was difficult to understand what he was getting at, like I was supposed to ask him if I could pay him money for something. Unfortunately, I did not receive the offer for the timeshare tour and was not lucky enough to line up on Saturday or Sunday morning on my vacation to be harassed into buying a worthless timeshare. I don't know if this timeshare company's timeshares sell for $1.00 on eBay as do some others. Apparently a lot of people purchase a timeshare just to get away from the timeshare sales people and the high pressure sales tactics. So they can get on with their vacation, you know, the reason for being there.

Embarrassingly, I have also done the same thing. It was not that long ago, but before I started suing timeshare companies and representing victims of timeshare fraud and timeshare scams, that I, too, was suckered into purchasing a similar item. And over the phone, nonetheless. It was a vacation package. Something to do with a cruise for a discount price. And I almost bought the upgrades too. I will absolutely and forever blame this purchase on the insistence of someone else. Regardless, and of course, I could never actually use it and the purchase was a total loss. I was taken for a few hundred dollars. Life lesson learned, hopefully!

But victims of timeshare scams are often not out a few hundred dollars, or a few thousand dollars, but sometimes and oftentimes a few or several tens of thousands of dollars. That many of these victims are senior citizens and the elderly obligating their future fixed incomes and retirement savings compounds the despicable nature of... well, need I say more? And it made me wonder: is this Hilton Head 2020?

Monday, February 24, 2014

How Many Votes Can I Cast With This Much Money?

Politics and profit go hand in hand on Hilton Head Island. Profit and Politics in Paradise: The Development of Hilton Head Island, by Michael N. Danielson, speaks to the history of developers and resort operators extracting from the Island what value they can while destroying its natural beauty, and I will quote Mr. Danielson's book throughout this blog. Private power begets substantial political influence. Obviously.

Charles Fraser and Fred Hack fancied themselves as benevolent and responsible dictators of the Island in their significant contributions to and development of the Island. But it was their idealism and commitment to quality that placated the Island's residents. A restriction on building more than five stories tall seems to me to be purposed and desired: prevent corporations from building beachfront timeshares and resorts from towering over the Town.

Could you imagine Hilton Head Island turned Myrtle Beach? In fact, [t]he recurring nightmare was that Hilton Head would become like Myrtle Beach . . ." "[T]he beachfront hotel was clearly repugnant to most island residents who do not want another Miami Beach" (internal citations and quotations omitted throughout; please send request to author for page citations). Yet money speaks, and financial pressures, or motivations, resulted in few private interests shaping Hilton Head Island. "Their paramount concern was the bottom line, and to increase profits they would press for more of everything."

Residents, not timeshare companies and resorts, have a stake in the Island's community. They, we, live here. Property values will come and go depending upon the quality of the community. Some absentee owners can fly back home in their private jets after taking what they want from the Island. And so there is a natural strife between residents and timeshare companies/resorts/developers. But that is not as accurate of a statement as it could be. It is a "strife between more responsible developers/residents and less responsible ones."

"People who moved to Hilton Head would have been far less willing to accept the developers' dominant role if Fraser and Hack had not been committed to quality." And the same should stand true today. Or does it? Will we build timeshare buildings to the sky? Will jumbo jets politely pollute the Island and be a noisy nuisance circling the island for a landing on a large Hilton Head airport? Can we please build a highway somewhere? And I could see where I was going if we would finally fill the night sky with neon flashing business signs.

Danielson speaks to the "greedy developer syndrome" on Hilton Head. We have a "high-rise hotel in Palmetto Dunes." An airport. The cross-island expressway. Oh, and the lovely and certainly affectionately labeled "stack-a-shacks" that were brought to the Island pre-fabricated and constructed apparently without reference to the environment and quality of other Island developments. Greed?

"[P]reserving paradise became the rallying point of people in plantations. The threats posed by uncontrolled and inappropriate development brought settlers together." And what is inappropriate development? Again, luckily, timeshare companies/resorts/developers do not vote. They do not get to decide.

"The problem was neither growth nor development, pioneers insisted, but a few bad apples, unscrupulous people who did not care about an island treasured by local businesses." Can this be? I recently quoted Mayor Riley of the City of Charleston in another blog entry wherein the Mayor speaks to the fact that the City is dependent upon tourism, like Hilton Head, and that Charleston rejects unscrupulous business practices. In fact, Charleston adopted a local law governing timeshare companies. Hilton Head also rejects unscrupulous businesses and their practices, right?

Some of the most disturbing features of growth and development on the Island for residents were condominiums. "Even more distressing to residents was time-sharing. Of all the methods devised to squeeze more golden eggs from the Hilton Head goose, none was more attractive to developers than time-sharing."

Here is how it works: take a condo unit, divide it into 52 weeks, and sell them to 52 people at an extremely inflated price. Then take the timeshare you just bought, look it up on eBay, and find that it recently sold for $1. The problem with timeshares then are the same problems with timeshares now: unscrupulous business practices. For a community that depends upon tourism, a reputation for unscrupulous business practices results in that timeshare selling on the open market for $1. Do residents think their property values are safe? Also very important for residents is that the timeshare has no real identifiable owner, severing "the link between ownership and a sense of responsibility for property and commitment to community."

Somewhat disappointingly, I discovered halfway through Danielson's book that when Charles Fraser experienced (more) financial difficulties in the 1970s and needed some quick cash, it was not "some fast-buck operator from the big city" but Charles Fraser who introduced the first timeshare to Harbor Town. Luckily, Charles Fraser did not start off with Hilton Head by developing timeshares. "Profit-seeking alone would have produced a different kind of Sea Pines and Hilton Head . . . ." Timeshare community is an oxymoron, an allusion, not a residence.

In sum, I will answer the question in the title and remind you of this: "It's not one dollar, one vote; it's one person, one vote."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hilton Head Island Timeshare Fraud Act?

Despite the best efforts of the South Carolina Real Estate Commission to regulate the timeshare industry (list of complaints of which the Real Estate Commission claims to be powerless to address), hundreds and thousands of complaints from victims of timeshare fraud on Hilton Head Island and other locations in South Carolina persist (www.ripoffreport.com and www.complaintsboard.com will keep you busy). I do not know how many more reports of senior citizens being sold a bag of dreams in exchange for their fixed incomes and retirement savings that I can reasonably stand to read and hear about (one report of Jeremy Cooper, 83, of Florida, in Hilton Head).

The City of Charleston, Hilton Head's esteemed lowcountry neighbor, has apparently agreed with me: in 2011! The City of Charleston adopted in its local laws a timeshare law in order to responsibly regulate the timeshare industry in their community. Would the residents of Hilton Head support such a similar measure? I would imagine so. How about the Town Council and the Mayor of Hilton Head? As Mayor Joe Riley of the City of Charleston stated: "[W]e have a duty to ourselves and the people who come here to make sure we don't have misleading or deceptive business practices."

Something more concrete maybe. What would Hilton Head Island's Timeshare Fraud Act look like, you say? Mostly mirroring the City of Charleston's same Act, something like this might work:

Sec. ____________________. Findings and purpose.

This Article is based on the following findings and purposes:

(a) This Article may be referred to as the “Timeshare Fraud Act.”

(b) The number of persons using the public streets and sidewalks in the Town of Hilton Head Island in recent years has increased dramatically due to an expanded commercial use and a growing tourism industry. As a result, the streets and sidewalks in the Town of Hilton Head Island are more congested with vehicles and pedestrians.

(c) Solicitors have begun to utilize deceptive, misleading, and aggressive commercial solicitation in the Town of Hilton Head Island, by urging upon residents and visitors the use of their services through oral communication and distributed materials and by abruptly approaching residents and visitors. Such solicitors have refused to discontinue their actions despite being asked to cease by the residents and visitors of the Town of Hilton Head Island.

(d) The deceptive, misleading, and aggressive commercial solicitation by such solicitors in the Town of Hilton Head Island has negatively affected visitors' enjoyment of the Town of Hilton Head Island and as a consequence visitors have expressed an intention not to return to the Town of Hilton Head Island.

(e) Town Council finds that the success of such deceptive, misleading, and aggressive commercial solicitation requires that persons congregate and respond to such solicitation.

(f) Town Council further finds that the deceptive, misleading, and aggressive commercial solicitation occurs in sales offices, as well as at sales kiosks, podiums, and satellite offices located adjacent to the public rights-of-way.

(g) Town Council further finds that the deceptive, misleading, and aggressive commercial solicitation has an adverse impact on the ambiance of the Town of Hilton Head Island and the public streets and sidewalks in the Town of Hilton Head Island; creates confrontations with residents and visitors; creates nuisances; adversely impacts the health and safety and well-being of the public; and otherwise has a negative impact on the tourism industry and economy of the Town of Hilton Head Island.

(h) Town Council further finds it necessary to regulate solicitors in order to protect the ambiance of the Town of Hilton Head Island and to promote the safety and welfare of the residents and visitors of the Town of Hilton Head Island.

(i) Vacation time share and vacation club membership sellers and solicitors have begun to engage in misleading advertising practices, including misleading signage, and as a consequence have negatively affected the special character and welcoming nature of the Town of Hilton Head Island.

(j) Vacation time share and vacation club membership solicitors and sellers may appear to the public as official Town of Hilton Head Island visitor centers and/or affiliated with the Town of Hilton Head Island.

(k) Town Council finds it necessary to regulate the signage of vacation time share and vacation club membership solicitors and sellers that are located on or visible from the public rights-of-way in the Town of Hilton Head Island in order to protect the residents and visitors that mistakenly believe those solicitors' and sellers to be an official Town of Hilton Head Island visitor center or otherwise affiliated with the Town of Hilton Head Island.

(l) Town Council finds it necessary to regulate the signage of vacation time share and vacation club membership solicitors and sellers that are located on or visible from the public rights-of-way in the Town of Hilton Head Island in order to protect the ambiance of the Town of Hilton Head Island and to promote the safety and welfare of the residents and visitors of the Town of Hilton Head Island.

(m) The purpose of the regulations contained in this article is to regulate activities which are commercial in nature and are not intended to prohibit free speech or any other constitutional right.

(n) The regulations set forth in this article are further designed to protect residents and visitors of the Town of Hilton Head Island against unreasonable interference or disturbance in their peace and against obstruction of free travel on Town of Hilton Head Island streets and sidewalks from the conduct of solicitors.

(o) This article is also designed to ensure that solicitors do not misrepresent the nature of the products they are promoting or the identity of the business that is promoting the products, whether selling their products at sales offices, as well as at sales kiosks, podiums, or satellite offices located adjacent to the public rights-of-way, and to provide a means for regulating such activities and enforcing the provisions of this article.

(p) This article is also designed to ensure that vacation time share and vacation club membership solicitors and sellers do not misrepresent the nature of the products they are promoting or the identity of the business that is promoting the products through signage or otherwise, and to provide a means for regulating such activities and enforcing the provisions of this article.

(q) Town Council further finds the adoption of this article is part of an ongoing effort to reasonably regulate the conduct of business for the benefit of the general public and residents of the Town of Hilton Head Island. (Ord. No. ____________________)

Sec. ____________________. Definitions for purposes of this article.

(a) Commercial solicitation shall be defined as any efforts by solicitor or solicitor business intended to interest, entice, or solicit any person to participate in a present or future commercial transaction. Such efforts include, but are not limited to, offers of products, either for sale, lease, exchange, or free, through person-to-person contact, telephone, mail, electronic mail, signage, handbills or other printed material, intended to induce the recipient's willingness to receive information relating to a possible present or future commercial transaction.

(b) Person shall be defined as any individual, corporation, firm, association, joint venture, partnership, trust estate, business trust, syndicate, fiduciary, and any other group or combination.

(c) Product shall be defined as any tangible or intangible item including, but not limited to, goods, edibles, services, real property, timeshare interests, and club memberships.

(d) Solicitor shall be defined as a person who by personal inducement, commercial solicitation, or other means encourages, or attempts to encourage, any person to participate in a present or future commercial transaction.

(e) Solicitor business shall be defined as a person that engages in the business of employing or contracting with solicitors.

(f) Vacation club membership plan shall be defined as an arrangement or agreement in which a purchaser in exchange for an advance fee and yearly dues is entitled to select from a designated list of facilities located in more than one (1) state, accommodations of companies that operate nationwide in at least nine (9) states in the United States through franchises or ownership, for a specified time period and at reduced rates and under which an interest in real property is not transferred. Vacation club membership plans include, but are not limited to, arrangements and agreements set up by travel club services and retail travel club services.

(g) Vacation club membership seller shall be defined as any person who creates a vacation club membership plan or is in the business of selling interests in a vacation club membership plan, or employs agents to do the same, or a person who succeeds to the interest of a seller by sale, lease, assignment, mortgage, or other transfer.

(h) Vacation club membership solicitor shall be defined as a person who attempts directly or indirectly to encourage any person to enter into a present or future commercial transaction consisting of a vacation club membership plan, through personal inducement, solicitation, or other means, including, but not limited to, invitations to sales presentations and offers for free or discounted products.

(i) Vacation time share plan means either a vacation time sharing ownership plan or a vacation time sharing lease plan.

(j) Vacation time share seller shall be defined as a person who creates a vacation time sharing plan or is in the business of selling interests in a vacation time share plan, or employs agents to do the same, or a person who succeeds to the interest of a seller by sale, lease, assignment, mortgage, or other transfer; except that, the term includes only a person who offers interests in vacation time sharing plans in the State of South Carolina in the ordinary course of business. The term "seller" does not include the following:

a. An owner of a time sharing interest who has acquired the time sharing interest for his own use and occupancy and who later offers it for resale on his own behalf or through a real estate broker;

b. A managing entity or owners' association of a time sharing plan, not otherwise a seller, that offers on the association's behalf time sharing interests in the time sharing plan transferred to the association through foreclosure, deed in lieu of foreclosure, or gratuitous transfer; or

c. A person who owns or is conveyed, assigned, or transferred time sharing interests, and who subsequently conveys, assigns, or transfers all acquired time sharing interests to a single purchaser in a single transaction, which transaction may occur in stages.

(k) Vacation time share solicitor shall be defined as a person who attempts directly or indirectly to encourage any person to enter into a present or future commercial transaction consisting of a vacation time sharing plan, through personal inducement, solicitation, or other means, including, but not limited to, invitations to sales presentations and offers for free or discounted products. The term "solicitor" does not include the following:

a. An owner of a time sharing interest who has acquired the time sharing interest for his own use and occupancy and who later offers it for resale on his own behalf or through a real estate broker;

b. A managing entity or owners' association of a time sharing plan, not otherwise a seller, that offers on the association's behalf time sharing interests in the time sharing plan transferred to the association through foreclosure, deed in lieu of foreclosure, or gratuitous transfer; or

c. A person who owns or is conveyed, assigned, or transferred time sharing interests, and who subsequently conveys, assigns, or transfers all acquired time sharing interests to a single purchaser in a single transaction, which transaction may occur in stages.

(l) Vacation time sharing lease plan shall be defined as any arrangement, plan, or similar devise, whether by membership agreement, lease, rental agreement, license, use agreement, security, or other means, in which the purchaser receives a right to use accommodations or facilities, or both, but does not receive an ownership interest in real property, for a period or periods of time during a given year, but not necessarily for consecutive years, which extends for a period of more than three (3) years. These lease plans do not include an arrangement or agreement in which a purchaser in exchange for an advance fee and yearly dues is entitled to select from a designated list of facilities located in more than one (1) state, accommodations of companies that operate nationwide in at least nine (9) states in the United States through franchises or ownership, for a specified time period and at reduced rates and under which an interest in real property is not transferred.

(m) Vacation time sharing ownership plan shall be defined as any arrangement, plan, or similar devise, whether by tenancy in common, sale, term for years, deed, or other means, in which the purchaser receives an ownership interest in real property and the right to use accommodations or facilities, or both, for a period or periods of time during a given year, but not necessarily for consecutive years, which extends for a period of more than one (1) year. An interest in a vacation time sharing ownership plan is recognized as an interest in real property for all purposes pursuant to the laws of this state. (Ord. No. ____________________)

Sec. ____________________. Specific regulation of conduct.

Solicitors shall be prohibited from engaging in the following activities in the Town of Hilton Head Island:

(a) No solicitor or solicitor business shall make a deceptive or misleading oral or written statement or representation in the course of soliciting or attempting to solicit persons.

(b) No solicitor or solicitor business shall misrepresent the nature of the products they are promoting or the identity of the business that is promoting the products, nor shall any solicitor or solicitor business represent themselves as being affiliated with the Town of Hilton Head Island.

(c) No solicitor or solicitor business shall solicit, sell, or attempt to solicit or sell any product in an aggressive manner, which shall include but is not limited to:

a. Intentionally touching or causing any physical contact with any persons on the public streets or sidewalks without that person's consent while engaging in, or attempting to engage in, commercial solicitation with that person; or

b. Intentionally blocking or interfering with the safe or free passage of any person by any means, including, but not limited to, unreasonably causing a person to take evasive action to avoid physical contact, while engaging in, or attempting to engage in, commercial solicitation with that person; or

c. Using profane, offensive, abusive or derogatory language, or using violent or threatening gestures toward a person before, during, or after commercial solicitation, or an attempt at commercial solicitation with the person; or

d. Continuing to engage any person as part of any commercial solicitation or attempt at commercial solicitation, including, but not limited to, persisting in closely following or approaching a person, if the person has indicated by words or conduct that such person does not want to be solicited.

e. No solicitor or solicitor business shall engage in sales or solicitation tactics that cause a gathering of people to form in a public place or otherwise cause congestion or the disruption of free flowing traffic, whether such traffic is pedestrian or vehicular. (Ord. No. ____________________)

Sec. ____________________. Provisions applicable to all signs for vacation time share solicitors, vacation club membership solicitors, vacation time share sellers and vacation club membership sellers.

(a) Within the Town of Hilton Head Island, all signage at all locations—including, but not limited to, satellite sales locations, kiosks, or podiums located adjacent to the public rights-of-way—of any vacation time share or vacation club membership solicitor or seller shall be clearly visible and readable from the adjacent public right-of-way and contain the following information:

a. The name of the business shall be disclosed on the face of the sign in letters of sufficient size to be clearly readable to the public, but in no event less than fifty (50) percent of the average size of the sign text, whichever is larger; and

b. The words "vacation time share seller" or "vacation club membership seller" shall be printed and thereafter remain in an unobscured manner, clearly readable in contrasting color and clearly readable to the public; and

c. The words "this business is not affiliated with the Town of Hilton Head Island" shall be printed and thereafter remain in an unobscured manner, clearly readable in contrasting color and clearly readable to the public.

(b) All signs shall comply with all other ordinances or rules specifying signage standards within the Town of Hilton Head Island. (Ord. No. ____________________)

Sec. ____________________. Severability.

If any section, subsection, sentence, clause, phrase or portion of this article is for any reason held invalid or unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction, such portion shall be deemed a separate, distinct and independent provision and such holding shall not affect the validity of the remaining portions hereof. (Ord. No. ____________________)

Sec. ____________________. Enforcement and violations.

(a) The police department, along with any other city enforcement officers or any other city employees designated by the council as code enforcement officers, are to enforce the provisions of this section.

(b) Any solicitor or solicitor business who violates any provision of this article shall be guilty of an infraction, punishable by a fine not to exceed one hundred dollars ($100.00).

(c) Violations of any and all of the provisions in this article shall be considered separate and distinct offenses.

(d) Each day of a continuing violation of this article shall be considered a separate and distinct offense.

(e) In addition to the penalties herein, a contract for the sale of a vacation timeshare club, vacation timeshare plan, or vacation timesharing ownership plan is voidable at the sole option of the purchaser and entitles the purchaser to a refund of all consideration paid pursuant to the contract. Nothing herein shall restrict or impair any purchaser’s right to bring a civil lawsuit arising from violation of this Act. (Ord. No. ____________________)

Sec. ____________________. Suspension or revocation of business license and appeal procedure.

Violations of this article may subject the business license to suspension or revocation pursuant to the procedures set forth in the Town of Hilton Head Island Business License Ordinance. (Ord. No. ____________________)

Sec. ____________________. Amortization.

This article shall take effect immediately and all existing, nonconforming signs shall be amortized and discontinued one hundred twenty (120) days after the enactment of this article. (Ord. No. ____________________)

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Honorable Soloman Blatt, Junior and Glanden Zheng

"I'm not going to supervise the demise of Hilton Head Island when I can stop it." -Judge Soloman Blatt, Jr., quoted by Janet Smith in the Island Packet, January 7, 1987, and cited in Profits and Politics in Paradise, The Development of Hilton Head Island, by Michael N. Danielson.

"No matter how long it takes, sooner or later, the truth would come out" -Glanden Zheng