Defunct health clubs in Severna Park, on Kent Island ordered to repay patrons Attorney general's office says Bay Fitness owes $325,000 in fines, restitution

June 02, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The consumer protection division of the attorney general's office has ordered the defunct Bay Fitness health clubs in Severna Park and on Kent Island to pay almost $325,000 in fines and restitution for selling memberships not adequately protected by bonds.

The clubs, owned by Gary D. Mackler, failed in May last year after collecting membership fees from 250 patrons, none of whom was reimbursed.

Mackler reportedly has left the country and is believed to be living in Hong Kong, Assistant Attorney General Steve Sakamoto-Wengel said.

Mackler's problems with the attorney general are not new. The consumer protection division fined him $47,000, which he has not paid, in September after another of his health clubs, in Annapolis, failed, leaving 1,500 members locked out without reimbursement.

Officials think he fled shortly after that.

Before he left, Mackler told The Sun: "We're not trying to hurt anybody. I can't imagine why the attorney general is trying so hard to defame us."

Mackler had filed for bankruptcy for the Annapolis club a year earlier, listing almost $1 million in liabilities.

Maryland law requires all health clubs that collect more than $200 or more than three months' advance payment from any member to post with the consumer protection division a bond sufficient to pay refunds if the clubs close.

"In this case, it was one individual who totally flouted the requirements of the law," Sakamoto-Wengel said. "The majority of health club owners are not like that, but hopefully this will act as a deterrent for people who might try the same thing."

Sakamoto-Wengel said Severna Park customers will receive partial refunds because Mackler posted a bond that protected half of the customers' advance payments. The consumer protection division will contact former members soon, he said.

Kent Island customers might meet the same fate as the Annapolis club members, Sakamoto-Wengel said, unless they find Mackler or any hidden assets he might have left behind.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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