States Settle Lawsuit Against Robin Leach

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The attorneys general of 12 states this week settled their lawsuits against television personality Robin Leach for allegedly making false statements in direct mail promotions for travel company National Travel Services.

The lawsuits concern mailings from National Travel Services Inc., Fort Lauderdale, FL, that included Leach's picture and the caption, "Robin Leach says Pack Your Bags!" -- suggesting consumers had won a "world class" Florida vacation. Consumers were instructed to call a toll-free number to claim their prize. Consumers who called the number were instructed to pay hundreds of dollars for accommodation costs and asked to provide their credit card numbers.

The lawsuits say that consumers who paid between $350 and $700 per person for the vacation packages were informed that the packages were valued from $3,000 to $4,000. However, the packages were worth far less than what consumers paid for them, and "cruises" often turned out to be day-trip ferry rides with "Las Vegas-style" bingo. NTS neglected to tell consumers the packages did not include airfare, taxes and other hidden expenses. The travel service also failed to mention that consumers would be required to attend a time-share presentation.

Leach admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, saying he never agreed to endorse the bogus vacation packages. As part of the settlement, he did agree to endorse only those products with which he is personally familiar, in keeping with Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

"He had ... refused to sign a contract with NTS or cash its accompanying check," said John J. Hannaway, Leach's lawyer.

"Now we have a celebrity who is under court order to abide by the guidelines," said Regina Cullen, assistant attorney general for the state of Washington, one of the 12 states involved in the settlement. "If he does not [abide] in the future, we can go back into court to seek enhanced civil penalties or seek contempt of court for violation of the order."

Besides Washington, the agreement covers Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The agreements with Leach follow state lawsuits filed last year against NTS and Ramada Plaza Resorts Inc., Fort Lauderdale, FL, another travel company that offered bogus vacation mailings. Those lawsuits alleged that the defendants engaged in the fraudulent marketing of travel packages that cost consumers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The lawsuits, in which the same states' authorities sought refunds for thousands of consumers, were settled in February.

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