AG Claims Pittsfield Travel Company Ripped Off Consumers
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.
Pittsfield Firefighters Fight 3-Alarm Blaze on Wahconah St.
|The fire reportedly started in the kitchen and spread to the attic.|
Updated on Feb. 26: The fire was under control but firefighters were still extinguishing hotspots shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday.
Deputy Chief Mark Cancilla said five engines and one ladder were dispatched to the scene. A second ladder was responded with off-duty personnel and a ladder truck from Lenox was in the city.
There were no civilian injuries but one firefighter was taken to Berkshire Medical Center with a minor hand injury.
The building incurred heavy fire damage to the second-floor and attic, and water and smoke damage in the lower floors.
It was unclear how many people were left homeless by the blaze, which is still undetermined at this time.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Firefighters were battling a three-alarm blaze at an apartment house on Wahconah Street on Tuesday night.
The fire was called in at around 9 p.m. as a kitchen fire that was spreading to the attic at 150 Wahconah St.
"On arrival, the guys had a lot of smoke coming out of the attic eaves so they started setting up defensive operations," Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said at scene. "Unfortunately, they couldn't get their ladders too close to the building because of power lines in the way."
Western Massachusetts Electric Co. had to be called to cut the power before the fire trucks could be positioned to attack the roof of the two-story residence.
Their response was further inhibited by an old metal room that was under the newer asphalt; they couldn't cut through the attic because of the metal.
"The fire appeared to be spreading through the two roof lines," Czerwinski said. "That's why it looks so bad right now."
At 10:30 p.m. he said crews were "busy chasing the fire through the attic area" and, once it settles down, firefighters would try to attack from the interior.
There is believed to be four units in the building but it was not clear how many people lived in the residence or which units were occupied. Czerwinski said it was assumed someone was in the building when the fire started because it was reported as a kitchen fire.
No one was reported injured but Wahconah Street is closed from the ballpark to the BP station. The fire chief expected the street to be closed most if not all night.
All on-duty crews were at the scene and other firefighters were called in. Mutual aid departments were covering the city, Czerwinski believe Lenox and Dalton, and Hinsdale's rehab unit was requested so firefighters could warm up in the frigid temperatures.
The Red Cross reported at least four people were affected by the fire, two adults and two children.
Pittsfield Police Mourn Loss of K-9 Nero
|Nero served with the Pittsfield Police Department since 2006.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It is with deep sadness and regret that the Pittsfield Police Department announces the passing of K-9 Nero.
Nero died on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, after a long illness. He had worked alongside his handler, Officer James Parise, since 2006.
In his nearly eight years with the department, Nero responded to 419 K-9 calls in Pittsfield, throughout Berkshire County and elsewhere in Western Massachusetts. During that time, he was responsible for the apprehension of numerous dangerous felons and the seizure of more than 40 pounds of illegal drugs.
In 2009, K-9 Nero received the department's Life Saving Commendation for his actions in locating a woman who had wandered away from a homeless shelter in freezing temperatures and not dressed for the weather. Nero located the missing woman trying tokeep warm under a pile of leaves. In 2012, Nero tracked an elderly man who had wandered from his home in freezing cold temperatures. After a two-mile track, Nero located the man in a barn, where he was seeking shelter and trying to stay warm.
In addition to his enforcement and operations duties, K-9 Nero participated in hundreds of K-9 demonstrations for schoolchildren throughout Berkshire County. Nero was requested on a regular basis by the elementary schools in Pittsfield, where he and Officer Parise would teach young children about police work, the K9 program, and most importantly, how to be act around dogs in order to avoid being accidently bitten.
K-9 Nero was a valued and productive member of the Pittsfield Police Department and will be missed greatly.
Hall Gets Life Sentences in First-Degree Murder Convictions
Update on Feb. 10 at 12:58 p.m.: Adam Lee Hall, 38, was sentenced to consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, to be served at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction, on the three convictions of murder in the first degree in the killings of David Glasser, Edward Frampton and Robert Chadwell.
Hampden Superior Court Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder also ordered Hall to serve several consecutive sentences on and after the final life sentence against Chadwell, beginning with a 12- to 15-year state prison sentence on the count of armed robbery against Glasser; an 8- to 10-year state prison sentence on a kidnapping charge against Glasser, and then a sentence of five to seven years, on the charge of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Hall was given concurrent state prison sentences on the other charges.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Adam Lee Hall, 38, of Peru was found guilty of three counts of murder after a monthlong trial held in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield.
The jury deliberated for about 17 hours over a four-day period before returning a verdict. He will be sentenced on Monday.
Hall, aka "Leo Mazoli" and a purported Hell's Angel, was accused of kidnapping and killing David Glasser, 44, Edward Frampton, 58, and Robert Chadwell, 47, with two alleged accomplices. The three Pittsfield men were last seen at a Pittsfield apartment shared by Glasser and Frampton on Aug. 28, 2011. Glasser was set to testify against Hall in another case.
Co-defendants David Chalue, 46, of North Adams, and Caius Veiovis, 32, of Pittsfield are to be tried separately.
Hall was found guilty on the three counts of murder in the first degree, three counts of kidnapping and three counts of intimidation of a witness or other person.
He was also found guilty on a charge of intimidation of a witness or other person related to an incident with 24-year-old woman in Pittsfield July 2012; and single counts of kidnapping, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and a count of conspiracy in the intimidation of a witness or other person in connection with a plot to kidnap and intimidate Glasser on Aug. 14, 2010. He was found not guilty on another intimidation charge.
The jury found Hall guilty of single counts of armed robbery, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and count of intimidation of a witness or other person from another incident, in Peru, involving Glasser that occurred on July 21, 2009. However, he was not found guilty of kidnapping and extortion by threat of injury.
Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder ordered that Hall be held without bail pending sentencing on Monday, Feb. 10, at 9 a.m.
The investigations were conducted by the Berkshire Detective Unit assigned to the district attorney’s office and the Pittsfield Police Department. They were assisted by the FBI, the Berkshire County sheriff's office and members of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force.
"I want to extend my appreciation and thanks to the jury for providing five weeks of service on behalf of their fellow citizens, their attention to the evidence throughout the trial, and for their obviously careful and thoughtful consideration of the evidence in the case. I also want to thank all of the many witnesses who came forward and testified," Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless said. "They should be congratulated for their willingness to share their testimony, and participate in the pursuit of justice on behalf of David Glasser, Edward Frampton and Robert Chadwell."
Capeless described the verdicts as resulting from a "through and relentless investigation" that will continue in the coming months as Chalue and Veiovis are tried.
Jury Finds Former School Counselor Not Guilty of Rape
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A jury has acquitted a former school counselor of rape and indecent assault charges.
Scott M. Muir, 38, of Stockbridge was found not guilty after 2 1/2 hours of deliberation in Berkshire Superior Court on Tuesday of five counts of rape of a child with force and 14 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.
The charges date back to when he was a school counselor at the Stockbridge Plain School between 2003 and 2006. Five girls, between the ages of 8 and 10, claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Muir.
Muir was charged with the crimes in April of 2012. At the time of the charges, he held municipal jobs including Stockbridge's emergency management director and facilities manager, and was a member of the Board of Health and an emergency medical technician with the Lee Volunteer Ambulance Service.
Muir pleaded not guilty to all counts. In the trial that began last week, several of the alleged victims, now in their late teens, testified that Muir had fondled them. However, an internal investigation could substantiate the complaints made at the time.
The investigation was conducted by state police detectives assigned to the district attorney's office.