3 lawsuits claim unfair sales practices at Hilton Head timeshare company

Three pending lawsuits filed in Beaufort County allege unfair trade practices and misrepresentation by Hilton Head Island timeshare company Coral Resorts.

Jeremy Cooper, 83, of Florida frequently vacations at timeshares with his wife, but says he wishes he hadn't done business with Coral Resorts on Hilton Head Island.

While staying at the company's Island Links Resort in October, Cooper said he was misled by a sales pitch and signed a contract that didn't reflect what he was told.

Promises made to him -- that his maintenance fees would go down, that he could earn extra weeks of vacation and other perks -- turned out to be false, he said.

Cooper added that he has lost out on three vacations that should have been easy to book, based on what sales staff told him.

"I am too old to be losing out on vacations in the sunset of my life," Cooper said.

Cooper hasn't taken legal action, but according to Beaufort County court filings, others have. Three lawsuits are pending against Coral Resorts, also claiming misrepresentation of product and unfair trade practices.

Coral Resorts' attorney Nekki Shutt said she could not comment on the litigation, but noted the company brings in thousands of buyers each year.

She added that Coral Sands Resorts and Island Links have earned the highest rating from the largest timeshare vacation exchange network, RCI. Of the more than 5,000 resorts that participate in RCI's point system, Coral Resorts is among only about one-fifth to have earned the Gold Crown Resort Award, which is based on customer evaluations, upkeep and service, according to the company's website.

Shutt said the company is asking that the three civil cases be dismissed.

Hilton Head Island attorney Joseph DuBois, who is representing two of the plaintiffs, said he is concerned that the problem is not limited to those who have filed suit. He said his office receives numerous calls each week from Coral Resorts customers who claim they were duped into signing contracts.

In February, DuBois subpoenaed all complaints against the company filed with the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, according to court filings. The department denied his request, saying the records involved "disciplinary matters" that are exempt from disclosure under the state's Freedom of Information Act, filings show.

In a written response to DuBois, the department's communications director and ombudsman, Lesia Kudelka, noted that the S.C. Timeshare Act gives investigative and enforcement authority of violations to the Real Estate Commission, a division of the labor department.

Kudelka also declined to release complaints to The Island Packet, citing the same laws.

DuBois said he'll ask a judge to compel the labor department to turn over the complaints.

"I think there are hundreds, maybe thousands of complaints over the past five or six years," DuBois said.

In 2005, the Real Estate Commission met with Coral Resorts representatives to discuss sales practices after it received a number of complaints that were "alarming and far in excess of any reasonably acceptable norm," according to a letter from the commission to the developer.

Though there was no formal agreement or sanctions, the company promised to provide additional sales staff and an attorney to dispense independent legal advice. The company stopped keeping a lawyer on-site in 2009, its previous attorney Dean Pierce has said.

In 2010, Kudelka told the Packet that 18 complaints against Coral Resorts were pending.

As for Cooper, he is hoping to get out of his contract without having to sue. He said a Coral Resorts representative recently told him the company planned to enforce the contract.

"I'd rather have (legal action) be a last resort," Cooper said.

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Related content:

New complaints arise about Hilton Head Island time-share company, May 2, 2010

Owner of Hilton Head developments slapped with fraudulent-sales lawsuits, Sept. 21, 2006