Md. charges campground sold memberships illegally

July 15, 1993|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

The Maryland attorney general's office charged an Eastern Shore campground and its marketing agent yesterday with unfair and deceptive trading practices in its sale of memberships to campers.

The state alleged that Ocean City Leisure Resort Inc. in Whaleysville, its owners Raymond S. Smethurst and Elwood Dean French, and its marketing agent, John P. Justice, lured consumers to its campground with promises of prizes and then illegally pressured them to buy memberships ranging in price from $3,000 to about $8,000.

The attorney general's office is seeking an order to halt the allegedly unfair and deceptive business practices and for restitution of membership fees to defrauded consumers.

The complaint is scheduled to be heard by an administrative law judge Oct. 12.

Jacqueline Wei Mintz, an attorney in the attorney general's office, said the campground has sold about 1,300 memberships, similar to memberships in a country club, since opening in 1986.

She said the state's legal action was based on about 70 complaints that have been filed over the past few years with the Consumer Protection Division.

Ms. Mintz said, "It is a violation of consumer protection laws to tell a consumer they have won something of value if you attach anything to it. You can't make them pay money or listen to a sales presentation."

A. Gillis Allen, an attorney representing Ocean City Leisure and its owners, said yesterday that the campground has not done any marketing since it opened in 1986. He said all marketing was contracted to an independent marketing company headed by Mr. Justice. Mr. Justice could not be reached for comment.

The state's charges also alleged that Ocean City Leisure:

* Made false claims that a specially reduced price was available only on a particular day:

* Falsely told consumers that they could easily resell their memberships and/or the company would sell it for them;

* Failed to disclose costs associated with the purchase of memberships, including annual dues of $175 or more.

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