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Telemarketing scheme boss gets 15 years

Associated Press

EAST. ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) – A federal judge sentenced the architect of a timeshare telemarketing scheme that bilked $30 million from 22,000 victims to more than 15 years in prison Monday, waving off the new mother’s sobbing claims of remorse.

U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy rejected Jennifer Kirk’s request for a 12-year term and admonished the 31-year-old New Jersey woman for starting a family even after her scheme had drawn the attention of state and federal authorities.

“The tragedy of this is this very vulnerable young baby is going to get her start in life without her mother,” Murphy said as an onlooker in the gallery clutched Kirk’s 15-month-old daughter.

“How in the world could you contemplate bringing a child into the world when you told me your world was destroyed?” Murphy scolded.

Federal prosecutors say Kirk operated Florida-based Universal Marketing Solutions and later Creative Vacation Solutions from October 2007 to December 2009, employing telemarketers who falsely told timeshare owners in unsolicited calls that they had buyers for their properties.

Using what federal prosecutor Bruce Reppert described as slick sales tactics, Kirk’s workers solicited closing costs of up to several thousand dollars from people across North America and Puerto Rico, and promised to refund them when the deals closed, supposedly within two to three months, the U.S. government alleged. But Kirk’s companies sold few if any of the timeshares and pocketed those fees.

Kirk, of Howell, N.J., had no previous criminal record when she pleaded guilty in June to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. She said her “horrible decisions” had brought shame on her family.

“It was never my intention to cause harm to the thousands of people victimized,” she said, insisting that “somehow I convinced myself and others that we were helping people.”

Murphy offered little sympathy.

“I think the defendant thinks a lot more of herself than most in this courtroom,” the judge said. “I think the defendant’s fan club is pretty small.”

Murphy fined Kirk $15,000 but did not order her to pay restitution, saying that was inconceivable given the scope of the scheme. It was not clear if any of the victims attended Monday’s sentencing hearing; none took Murphy up on his offer to speak their mind.

Three of Kirk’s former employees spun off a similar timeshare scam as Real Timeshare Marketing, which federal prosecutors say made $1.3 million using the same tactics that Kirk employed. Those men, prosecuted separately from Kirk, are serving prison sentences handed down last year in East St. Louis ranging from 18 months to 10 years in prison and have been ordered to repay the money, with one of the defendants facing a restitution tab of $1.1 million.

Murphy accepted the defense’s request that Jennifer Kirk, formerly of Florida’s Lake Worth and Wellington, remain free on bond until she’s required to report to a prison, which Kirk’s attorneys say they hope is in Connecticut to allow her to be near her daughter.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)