Cicero neighbors say they were victims of an apparent travel scam
CNYCentral has learned more about a suspicious travel offer that some neighbors in Cicero have received. Police Chief Joseph Snell is not sure any crimes have been committed but he has significant concerns about how legitimate a company operating out of a Cicero hotel meeting room really is.
Some Cicero neighbors have been receiving postcards that offer two free round trip airfares to anywhere in the United States. The postcards had the Jet Blue logo on the front and back. No other company names are shown anywhere on the postcard. (See photo above.)
When people called to receive the free airfare, they were given an appointment to meet with representatives from a company called Blue Water at the Comfort Suites in Cicero.
At the presentation, representatives from Blue Water asked people to sign up for a membership in a travel club that offered discounted airfares, cruises, hotel rooms and vacation home rentals. The cost of the membership was $8,495 but attendees said the price seemed to be negotiable. One person said presenters reduced it by $1,000 if they were willing to pay with cash that night.
Chief Snell received one of the postcards and found it to be suspicious. Snell made an appointment with Blue Water but says he was escorted out after he started asking questions about the company's background and connections. Before going to his appointment, Snell researched Blue Water Travel and found that a travel membership club by that name had been shut down by the New Jersey Attorney General's office and the owner, Daryl Turner, was facing a long list of fraud charges.
Snell said representatives from the Blue Water presentation in Cicero denied having any connection to Turner.
After leaving the presentation, Snell posted a message on the Cicero Police Facebook page warning neighbors about the apparently suspicious presentation.
On Thursday, CNYCentral went to the Comfort Suites to try to talk to the Blue Water representatives about the chief's concerns. While we waited by their presentation area, a man wearing a suit approached the room, but became hesitant when he saw the reporter. When asked if he was part of the Blue Water group, he said 'no.' He told us he was there to help set up for a wedding rehearsal dinner next door. The man briefly peered into the banquet room next door to the Blue Water meeting room and left while talking on his cell phone.
A few minutes later, the Comfort Suites manager told CNYCentral's photographer that he could not take pictures on the property and that the Blue Water team did not want to be photographed.
A person who had paid for a Blue Water membership, and who asked not to be identified, looked at CNYCentral's video and identified the man claiming to be a wedding rehearsal guest as one of the Blue Water presenters. The man confronted presenters outside the hotel, asking for his money back and saying he believed the Blue Water group was running a scam.
On Friday, CNYCentral was able to reach a man named Keith on the phone. Keith said he was part of the Blue Water company but reiterated that his business had no connection to Darryl Turner or the Blue Water group from New Jersey.
"We're in no way, I mean no way, associated with Daryl Turner or Blue Water Vacation Club or Blue Water Travel Club or whatever his name was. We are simply Blue Water. They screwed up a good thing for everybody by lying to people and doing the things they did. We're in no way associated with them," said Keith.
Keith acknowledged that the similarity in names, business plan and presentation style could be confusing to people.
"Of course. I can see, this is the same thing, I can see that. But we do things differently, and yes the outside appearance looks the same in terms of the presentation and that kind of thing, but we do it clean," said Keith.
Keith said Blue Water is a distributor for a company called American Travel Planners, and is simply a travel agency that books trips for people.
"We're as straightforward as anyone can be. That postcard, they can get their airline tickets," said Keith
CNYCentral left several messages for American Travel Planners but has not heard back. Keith said he disagreed with people who found the use of the Jet Blue logo on the front and back of their recruitment postcard misleading.
"It does have a Jet Blue logo on it but that doesn't mean it's coming from Jet Blue," said Keith. "If Wal-Mart sends you a Sony TV logo because they're putting their TVs on sale that doesn't mean it's coming from Sony."
We noted that Wal-Mart advertisements are clearly marked and say they are coming from Wal-Mart. The postcards do not have Blue Water's name or logo on either the front or back.
"It doesn't need to be," said Keith.
Blue Water also does not have a website for people to get more information about the company. In paperwork given to customers, a phone number listed as Blue Water is actually for a Holliday Inn.
When we asked about the man who had been identified as a Blue Water presenter but had told CNYCentral he was there to prepare for a wedding rehearsal dinner, Keith said it was possible he was there for both.
"Well, it's possible. We go to places all the time where there are weddings going on," said Keith.
At least two people who paid for memberships have requested their money back since Chief Snell alerted the Cicero community to what he calls the suspicious elements of the presentation. One attendee cancelled their credit card and stopped payment on a check to make sure Blue Water would not get any of his money. Chief Snell says he doesn't know if any crimes have been commited but he asked the Attorney General's office to investigate.
CNYCentral has learned that postcards with Jet Blue or Delta logos have been received in Solvay, Marcellus and other Central New York towns. People who attended a presentation said Blue Water is expected to be taking appointments at the Comfort Suites in Cicero for the next 40 days.