Feds send NJ vacation-home loan firm owners, workers to prison for fraud
CAMDEN — A woman convicted of participating in a $3 million scheme that defrauded hundreds of timeshare owners was sentenced Friday to six years in prison.
Ashley Lacerda, 36, was convicted in September 2013 on conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud counts. Federal prosecutors said Lacerda and others who worked for Vacation Ownership Group swindled customers by pretending to represent banks and offering to settle their loans and get their money back.
For example, one customer was told that if he or she paid the firm $8,562, it would eliminate about $18,000 in mortgage debt owed to a timeshare developer, authorities said. More than a dozen people testified during the trial that they lost tens of thousands of dollars in the scheme.
Lacerda, of Egg Harbor Township, was the vice president and chief operating officer and sent fraudulent contracts to customers, the U.S. attorney's office said. She broke down in tears when she was convicted.
Her attorney, Charles Nugent Jr., said she has taken responsibility for her actions and is taking steps to address a substance abuse problem. He said she will be credited for the roughly 34 months she has already spent in prison.
"There's bad people who do bad things. There's good people who do bad things," Nugent said Friday. "She was a good person who did a bad thing."
One of her co-defendants at the trial was sentenced in April to 18 years in prison. The co-defendant was a bank robber who started at the company as a salesman and later became director of compliance, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Lacerda's husband, the company's founder, also was convicted at trial and was sentenced last year to 27 years in prison. A former sales representative was convicted and was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
Several other former employees pleaded guilty.
Francis Santore, of Northfield, and Alfred Giordano, of Belmar, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Santore was sentenced to 12 months, and Giordano got 18 months.
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