Two individuals have been ordered to pay back £424,560 for their part in a ‘leisure club’ scam. The confiscation orders were handed down at Birmingham Crown Court on 12 February 2020, where Dominic O’Reilly and Stephanie O’Reilly were ordered to pay £274,560 and £150,000 respectively for their part in running Eze Europe Ltd and linked businesses.
The confiscation orders follow custodial sentences handed down at Birmingham Crown Court in March 2019. Dominic O’Reilly was sentenced to a total of 28 months in prison and Stephanie O’Reilly had received a sentence of 18 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years.
If they fail to pay the latest confiscation orders within three months, they will face further prison time: Dominic O’Reilly would face a default sentence of a further two years behind bars and Stephanie O’Reilly would face a default sentence of 18 months' imprisonment.
The pair had previously pleaded guilty to offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 for their roles in aggressive mis-selling. Between 2014 and 2017, the father and stepdaughter managed ‘Eze Group’, which oversaw various interconnected businesses, including:
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These businesses were deliberately set up to appear independent from one another. In practice, they were part of a bigger operation to coerce individuals to attend a presentation run by Eze Europe Ltd.
Eze Group businesses would invite consumers, typically existing timeshare owners, on a free ‘mini break’, which included a presentation given by Eze staff. Some presentations lasted up to eight hours and attendees were subjected to aggressive and highly manipulative sales tactics to encourage them to sign up for services they did not want or need, including services to dispose of timeshares and a ‘club membership’ offering discounts that didn’t really exist.
The presentations made false claims that victims’ existing timeshares would last in perpetuity and that huge debts would be passed onto their children unless consumers signed up to Eze timeshare disposal services. Many consumers reported that they felt trapped at the venue and therefore signed up to Eze services because they felt that it was the only way to be able to leave and return to their hotel.
Consumers believed that they could simply cancel the agreement afterwards, but the company tried to avoid offering customers cancellation rights. This was despite ongoing warnings by Trading Standards from late 2014 that cancellation rights applied.
Enforcement action was taken in April 2016 by the National Trading Standards Regional Investigations Team in Central England, supported by officers from Warwickshire Trading Standards. Complaints continued to be received from consumers about the sales practices being used until 2018, by which time the group was only operating in Spain.
The pair had previously pleaded guilty to offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and had been sentenced in March 2019 for their roles in the mis-selling being done under the banner of the Eze Group.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:
“The directors of Eze Group Ltd used aggressive and intimidating tactics and false claims to pursue money from victims, and then denied them the right to cancel their purchases.
“Thanks to the hard work of investigators, the criminals must pay back hundreds of thousands of pounds or risk further prison sentences. If you believe you, or someone you know, has fallen victim to a fraud like this you should report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline by calling 0808 223 1133.”
Notes to Editors
About National Trading Standards
National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues and organised criminality and by providing a “safety net” to limit unsafe consumer goods entering the UK and protecting food supplies by ensuring the animal feed chain is safe.