PUERTO VALLARTA (CBS13) — Maybe you’ve been approached with an offer for a free dinner, an excursion or tequila to get you to a timeshare presentation. Pete and Sue High of Auburn say they were approached while shopping in town. The man offered them $450 to attend a 90-minute presentation at the luxurious Puerto Bahia Villas and Spa. “That was the start of the mexican timeshare nightmare,” Pete said.
The couple says that ninety minutes turned into eight excruciating hours of rotating and relentless salespeople pressuring them. “They were persuasive,” Sue recalls. “They kept pushing us and we’d say no and they’d say something else.” Kurtis: Why didn’t you leave? Pete: We were waiting to get what they promised us.
Kurtis: $450. Pete: 5000 Pesos.
The couple says without asking, a glass of red wine showed up for her and an already cracked open can of beer for him. They claim they drank it because they were thirsty after sitting there for six hours. Soon after sipping those drinks, both say they felt funny. “I felt sick,” Sue recalls. She describes Pete as being in a trance and lethargic.
CONFUSED & SIGNING
The next thing they knew they were initialing page after page agreeing to open up RCI MasterCards to cover the down payment and closing costs totaling $21,900. They say the next morning they noticed someone fudged figures on their credit application to show Sue had a higher salary. They also claim the paperwork did not include everything they said they were verbally promised.
CBS13 tracked down a former employee of Puerto Bahia. “I cannot look at myself in the mirror anymore,” said Rafael Kosche. He says he worked at the resort for one month. “I feel dirty and ashamed.” He says they were instructed to do whatever they needed to do to close the sale. Kosche did not sell to Pete and Sue, but says booze was regularly brought to the negotiation table without people asking.
“After four hours of not drinking, not eating, half a beer you start to feel buzzed,” he said. Kosche even recalls salespeople pretending to be buyers staging a signing. As part of the fake celebration, he says champagne was passed out to everyone in the room; even nondrinkers who were being pressured into buying. “They purposefully use alcohol to get people to the point they can’t think straight anymore,” he said. They’re tired. They’re exhausted and can’t think straight. That’s when you zero in like a vulture and take advantage of them.”
OTHER PUERTO BAHIA CUSTOMERS
CBS13 spoke with a dozen Puerto Bahia customers across the country and Canada. The majority say they too were offered alcohol during negotiations. All said they were lied to during negotiations and did not get everything promised.
THE WILD WILD WEST
Brian Rogers runs the Timeshare Users Group http://www.tug2.net/ The website claims it provides the truth about timeshares. His family started the site years ago after being ripped off. He compares Mexico timeshare presentations to the wild wild west saying people have posted similar stories online from other resorts. Some even claim they were drugged. One person wrote online, “The room spun a little and everything became vague and kind of numb or zombie like.” “People have claimed they felt lightheaded or felt woozy or felt otherwise intoxicated,” Rogers said.
KURTIS HEADS TO MEXICO TO INVESTIGATE
We hopped a plane to Mexico to investigate and learned Mexico has a consumer protection agency called Profeco. Gabriela Cervantes claims six couples a day come to her office upset about a presentation they attended.
KURTIS: How aggressive are these salespeople? CERVANTES: Very aggressive She claims she’s never heard of anybody being given alcohol or getting drugged during negotiations. KURTIS: Does that surprise you? CERVANTES: Yes. KURTIS: You’ve never heard of that before? CERVANTES: No CBS13 spoke with several attorneys who focus on timeshare lawsuits who find that hard to believe.
The morning after signing the contract, Pete and Sue said they called RCI MasterCard to explain what happened and to cancel those cards. They showed up to the Profeco office in Puerto Vallarta and learned under Mexican law they had five days to get out of the contract. http://embamex.sre.gob.mx/canada_eng/images/consumer.pdf Profeco wrote them a cancellation letter in Spanish. Pete and Sue say they hand delivered it to Puerto Bahia and never heard from the resort again. Once they got home, they say dozens of collection calls started coming in threatening legal action if they didn’t pay. Profeco would not supply us with copies of complaints, but admits they’ve received quite a few about Puerto Bahia. “The process for canceling in my experience has not been that easy for them,” Cervantes said.
KURTIS VISITS PUERTO BAHIA
I took the thirty minute cab ride North of Puerto Vallarta to the neighboring state of Nayarit where Puerto Bahia is located. The beautiful property is up and a hill in the jungle overlooking the Pacific. I was met by salesperson Elizabeth Rocha who agreed to sit down with me. KURTIS: Do you normally serve alcohol during these presentations? ROCHA: Not that I know. Not that I’m aware of. She told me alcohol is only served once people sign as a celebration. KURTIS: Do you ever try to get people drunk to get them to sign? ROCHA: No. KURTIS: Do you think these people are making this up? ROCHA: Geez. I’m not in their head, I cannot answer for you. We showed her the cancellation letter Pete and Sue delivered to them back in 2013. KURTIS: Why wouldn’t that have happened by now? It’s been more than a year. ROCHA: It’s been more than a year. (Laughter) I don’t know. THE FIX KURTIS: Now that we brought this to your attention, will you help these people? ROCHA: Yes. “You’ve done more in two weeks, than we were able to do in seventeen months,” she said. It brought them a feeling of relief. It’s the same feeling Kosche got leaving his job at Puerto Bahia after just one month. “I feel dirty that I even participated and if I could go to all the different people that I sold timeshares, I would love to apologize to them,” he said. Pete and Sue don’t plan to sit through another timeshare presentation the next time they visit Mexico, although they did walk away with what initially got them to Puerto Bahia in the first place. KURTIS: They did give you $450. Was it worth it? SUE AND PETE: No.
PUERTO BAHIA RESPONSE
I can’t speak truly about the former 2013 actions sales individuals were using to enhance purchase of the program as I was not part of the development. Since my involvement with the company as of January 2014 I can address that sales have been conducted in the proper manner. Alcoholic beverages such as Champagne glass or margaritas are a courtesy offer to clients who have decided to purchase the program and wish to celebrate that is after they sign initial agreement sheet) This servings are limited and never offered in extended. Also it is a rule and always has been that each client has a meeting in the private office with the Verification Officer who explains terms of the program and all the details. During this meeting no alcohols is being served and it is always addressed to clients what they are purchasing, what terms and what is our obligations and theirs….. If any verbal promises or incentives are or were addressed during presentations such are precisely revised with the Verification officer. And Upon this members sign the agreement. They are allowed time to review each paragraph and ask questions. Signing of the agreement is certainly nor (sic) forced, never has been and they have as per law rescission time to change their mind. -Dorota Antoszkiewicz
CREDIT CARD RESPONSE
CBS13 also worked with BarclayCard which operates RCI MasterCard. The company said it could not talk specifics about the case for privacy reasons. “While I can’t get into the specifics of the account, I can let you know that the issue has been resolved… Barclays issued credits for the full balance on Mr. and Mrs. High’s account. They will receive a letter from Barclays explaining the actions taken on their behalf.” –Nicole DyeAnderson, BarclayCard