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AG Claims Pittsfield Travel Company Ripped Off Consumers
Staff Reports On: 12:48PM / Monday March 31, 2014
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The attorney general is accusing a city-based travel company of deceptive business practices.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is suing Berkshire Concepts LLC for allegedly misleading customers into paying thousands of dollars for services that were never provided. Coakley is seeking more than $278,000 from the company.

Coakley alleges that Berkshire Concepts, Netrate Concepts and CRW Marketing "used high pressure sales tactics to offer consumers free travel incentives and extreme discounts on travel but instead charged consumers thousands of dollars for access to a 'proprietary software' database that failed to provide the promised discounts."

The company is owned by Charles Whiteman and Dennis and Daniel Merritt of Pittsfield.

"Vacation or travel scams offer free or discounted deals that often never materialize, and our office alleges these companies stole thousands of dollars from consumers through their deceptive memberships," Coakley said in a press release issued on Monday. "While many travel opportunities are genuine, we want to educate the public as much as possible to protect themselves and be wary of deals that sound too good to be true."

According to the complaint issued in court on Tuesday, between February 2011 and April 2013, the companies sent postcards to several residents offering a free cruise or airline tickets for attending a presentation. Other mailings told residents that they had won free travel and needed to claim the prize.

However, the free travel required hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees to redeem. The company also claimed that their website provided customers with direct access to travel tickets at wholesale price. Membership for that access cost thousands of dollars and the company failed to provide log-in information until after the cancellation period expired.

One family paid nearly $6,000 for the 'platinum level' membership, Coakley said. The website did not provide the deals promised during the presentation. Others found the website offered more expensive travel rates than other free websites.

According to the complaint, the company collected thousands of dollars from at least 25 consumers. None of the customers received refunds from the companies and Coakley is seeking more than $108,000 in restitution and $170,000 in civil penalties.

Coakley alleges that the company violated consumer protection laws by advertising 'free' travel while requiring customers to pay taxes and fees, advertising non-existent 'wholesale' discounts and holding customers to a three-day cancellation period without allowing the customer to have access to the website.

The attorney general's office provided the following tips to help residents avoid scams:

  • Calls or letters saying consumers have won "prizes" or "awards" for a contest that they never entered are almost always ploys.
  • Always read the fine print on all "prizes" and "gifts" to determine any costs associated with them. It is the consumer’s responsibility to pay for anything not specifically mentioned.   
  • Walk away from high pressure sales tactics including "one-day" or "one-time" offers. Reputable companies will never pressure customers to make immediate decisions, and will allow time to consider the terms of an offer.
  • Search Internet sites for customer feedback, and call the attorney general's office to determine if other consumers have filed complaints.    
  • Get the details of any offer in writing and review the terms before deciding to sign up or pay a deposit.
  • Compare promised rates with travel agents, airlines or available Internet-based services. Determine the company that is actually providing the goods or services being promised.
  • Get the details behind vague promises that packages include stays at "five-star" resorts or sailing on "luxury" cruise ships.
  • Find out all possible unexpected expenses including hotel costs, meals and transportation. What will the company do if hotel and other accommodations are completely booked?
  • After determining that a business is reputable, use a credit card to purchase the trip. Credit card companies often provide some protection and can help consumers dispute charges.


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Superior Court Briefs: March 18 - March 21
Staff Reports On: 01:44PM / Friday March 21, 2014
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Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Tuesday, March 18.

Gina Arnold, 32, of Lee had not guilty pleas entered on her behalf on five counts of receiving stolen property over $250, two counts of wanton destruction of property and single counts of larceny over $250, trespassing and being present where heoin is kept.

She was released on personal recognizance. Arnold allegedly sold copper that belonged to Iberdrola Renewables between October 22, 2013 and November 12, 2013.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Wednesday, March 19.

Eli Waters, 33, of Lee had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on 12 counts of receiving stolen property over $250, two counts of wanton destruction of property, and single counts of larceny over $250, trespassing and being present where heroin is kept.

He was released on personal recognizance. Waters allegedly sold copper that belonged to Iberdrola Renewables between October 19, 2013 and November 12, 2013.
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Friday, March 21.

Leonard Ellis, 43, of Troy, N.Y. pleaded guilty to single counts of larceny from a person, assault by means of a dangerous weapon and assault and battery.

Ellis was ordered to serve concurrent two year sentences at the Berkshire County House of Correction. The charges were in connection to an incident involving a 29-year-old man in North Adams on January 4, 2013.



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Stamford Crash Cuts Power
Staff Reports On: 05:32PM / Thursday March 20, 2014
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STAMFORD, Vt. — A single-vehicle crash on Main Road on Thursday morning sent a local woman to the hospital and cut power to a section of town for more than two hours.

State police said Maria Theresa Denault, 20, of Stamford was northbound on Route 100 when she lost control of her 2005 Dodge Durango just before 9 a.m. and collided with a utility pole at 4651 Main Road.

Deneault was going about 45 mph when the sport utility vehicle lost traction in the slush and ice and slid across the road, and broke the pole at the base, according to the report by State Trooper Paul F. Sokolowski Jr. of the Shaftsbury barracks.

A messy mix of snow, sleet and rain had fallen over the region since late Wednesday evening.

Denault, who was not wearing a seat belt, was taken to North Adams (Mass.) Regional Hospital with minor injuries; the vehicle sustained extensive damage and was towed from the scene.

Green Mountain Power reported about 560 customers without power in Stamford and Readsboro. The utility replaced the pole; Fair Point Communications also responded.

The Stamford Fire Department responded to the scene and assisted with traffic control.



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Three Arrested in North Adams Drug Raid
On: 05:03PM / Tuesday March 18, 2014
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Two city residents and a New York man were arrested on drug charges Monday night after a raid that garnered some 100 baggies full of cocaine.

Brenda Blasi, 46, and Thomas Massey Jr., 43, both of North Adams, and Tareem Jackson, 26, of East Sunnyside Street in Troy, N.Y., are being charged with trafficking in crack cocaine (more than 36 grams); possession of a Class B substance (crack cocaine) with the intent to distribute (third offense for Blasi and second offense for Jackson), and conspiracy to violate the Controlled Substances Act.

Massey was also arrested on three arrest warrants for failing to appear at Northern Berkshire District Court for narcotics offenses.

North Adams Police and members of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force, with the assistance of the Berkshire County Special Response Team, executed a search warrant at Blasi's home at 74 Liberty St. at about 9 p.m. on Monday.

Police said a man in the front yard of the home when officers arrived ran into the house and attempted to flush baggies down the toilet. Officers searched the house and, with the assistance of Department of Public Works personnel and the plumbing inspector, recovered more than 100 baggies of crack cocaine that were lodged in the house's drain.

The street value of the crack cocaine was estimated at more than $5,000.

All three were held on cash bail and arraigned in Northern Berkshire District Court on Tuesday morning.

Blasi had been previously indicted for drug trafficking in the breakup of a drug ring at Wheel Estates Mobile Home Park in 2008, uncovered after the slaying of Daniel J. Walters.



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Superior Court Briefs: March 10 - March 13
Staff Reports On: 11:28AM / Friday March 14, 2014
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Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Monday, March 10.

Eric Cohen, 55, of New Marlborough had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on four counts of rape of a child with force and a single count of assault with intent to rape.

He was ordered to be held on $25,000 cash bail. Cohen is accused of assaulting a woman who is now 33-years old. The incidents allegedly occurred in North Adams between January 1, 1992 and May 20, 1994.

Ariel Camacho, 27, of Manhattan, N.Y. had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on two counts of conspiracy to violate drug laws and single counts of trafficking in oxycodone, distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to violate drug laws, being present where heoin is kept, possession of heroin, resisting arrest, failure to stop for a police officer, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and furnishing a false name to a police officer.

He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $50,000 cash or $500,000 surety bail. The charges stem from a motor vehicle stop in North Adams on February 21, 2014.

Ansel Sparrow, 24, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and single counts of armed assault with intent to rob and conspiracy to commit armed robbery while masked.

He was ordered to serve eight to 11 years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction on the armed assault with intent to rob charge. He was given concurrent time at the Berkshire County House of Corre3ction on the others.

Sparrow assaulted and attempted to rob a 16-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman in Pittsfield on October 2, 2012. A single count of armed home invasion was dismissed by the state.

Grace Mary Stanley, 25, of North Adams had not guilty pleas entered on her behalf on two counts of conspiracy to violate drug laws and single counts ot trafficking in oxycodone, distribution of cocaine, being present where heroin is kept and possession of heroin.

She was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $7,500 cash or $75,000 surety bail. The charges stem from a motor vehicle stop in North Adams on February 21, 2014.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Tuesday, March 11.

Nakiba Browne, 29, of Boston had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and conspiracy to violate drug laws.

He was released on $15,000 bail. The charges stem from a motor vehicle stop in Pittsfield on January 21, 2014.

Eric Alfonso, 30, of Adams had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on two counts of receiving stolen property over $250.

He was released on personal recognizance. Alfonso is accused of selling copper that belonged to Iberdrola Renewables between November 4, 2013 and November 8, 2013.

Brian Mcadoo, 35, of Adams had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on three counts of receiving stolen property over $250 and a single count of wanton destruction of property.

He was released on personal recognizance. Mcadoo is accused of selling copper that belonged to Iberdrola Renewables between September 28, 2013 and October 7, 2013.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Wednesday, March 12.

Luis Torres, 27, of Pittsfield had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of distribution of Percocet and possession of Percocet with intent to distribute.

He was released on personal recognizance. Torres allegedly sold Percocet and was in possession of the drug with intent to sell when he was arrested in Pittsfield on January 25, 2014.

Shelley Meehan, 41, of Adams had a not guilty plea entered on her behalf on a single count of receiving stolen property over $250.

She was released on personal recognizance. Meehan allegedly sold copper that belonged to Iberdrola Renewables on November 8, 2013.
 
Tiffany Bednarz, 25, of Adams had a not guilty plea entered on her behalf on a single count of receiving stolen property over $250.

She was released on personal recognizance. Bednarz allegedly sold copper that belonged to Iberdrola Renewables on November 8, 2013.

Mark Bednarz, 47, of Adams had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on four counts of receiving stolen property over $250 and a single count of wanton destruction of property.

He was released on personal recognizance. Bednarz allegedly sold copper that belonged to Iberdrola Renewables between October 12, 2013 and November 8, 2013.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Thursday, March 13.

Shaun Kelly, 39, of Hinsdale had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on eight counts of illegal possession of a large capacity feeding device and single counts of fraudulent use of a medical marijuana registration card, cultivation of marijuana, distribution of marijuana and possession of heroin.

He was released on personal recognizance. The incidents allegedly occurred in Hinsdale between January 25, 2013 and June 21, 2013.

Jamene Hinckley-Morrison, 32, of Pittsfield had not guilty pleas entered on her behalf on three counts of receiving stolen property over $250, two counts of wanton destruction of property and single counts of larceny over $250, trespassing and being present where heroin is kept.

She was released on personal recognizance. She allegedly sold copper that belonged to Iberdrola Renewables between October 26, 2013 and November 12, 2013.



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