Campers at Peters Pond Park RV Resort are not happy with the campground's management and business practices and neither is Massachusetts Attorney General Martha V. Coakley.
This week, the attorney general's office filed suit against Peters Pond Park RV Resort, which is owned by Morgan Recreation Vacations and is operated by its subsidiary Ideal Resorts. Robert J. Moser is co-owner of Morgan Recreation Vacations.
An investigation was launched by the attorney general's office in May of this year after receiving numerous complaints from seasonal residents living at Peters Pond Park who reported being threatened and coerced into buying memberships at the campground at a cost of $16,000. In their sworn testimonies, the residents stated that salespeople told them if they did not buy the membership, they would lose the campsites on which their mobile homes are situated.
The investigation uncovered what the AG's office called "deceptive sales tactics and extortion."
"Martha Coakley walks on Peters Pond water, right now," said Rick Turcotte of Millbury, a longtime camper at the Cotuit Road campground facility, expressing his delight with the suit.
Last Saturday, Mr. Turcotte, along with 35 other seasonal residents from the campground facility, met at the Cape Cod Canal to speak with The Sandwich Enterprise about the ongoing issues at Peters Pond Park. Fearing retribution by the management and staff at the park, the residents chose to meet at a location away from the campground. Many offered comments but declined to provide their names.
Mr. Turcotte, who has already secured his campsite for next year at the nearby Dunroamin Trailer Park off John Ewer Road, said, "We have all been victimized in one way or another by Morgan....Morgan is using fear tactics to make us become members of a club we don't want to belong to," he said.
"The operative word here is bullying," seasonal resident Al Hannigan of Florida said.
The residents said that the issues at the campground began earlier this year when salespeople living on the property began pressuring them to buy a $16,000 membership that would allow the homeowners to keep their mobile homes on their campsites. This membership fee is in addition to the $4,000 to $6,000 seasonal lease fee that the residents pay annually.
According to the resort residents, while their manufactured homes meet the definition of a mobile home, once the units are situated on a tract of land they are not intended to be moved. Most of the manufactured homes have decks and screened-in porches that have been added on to them. When the owners of these homes selected their sites, some, as many as 50 years ago, it was with the intention of leaving the mobile homes there and not moving them.
According to the lawsuit, Peters Pond Park RV Resort falls under the state's definition of a manufactured housing community, where residents own their homes but must rent the land.
The residents said while their homes could be moved, it would be expensive, since special equipment would have to be brought in and a state police detail would have to be hired to escort the move. It could cost $5,000 or more to move the mobile home and there are no guarantees that the structure would not be damaged in the process.
"It's extortion. They are telling us to either pay up or get out. It's not nice," said one resident who did not want his name used because he needs to stay at the campground one more year until he can find another site for his home.
In the claim, the attorney general's office asserts, "since at least April 2011, the defendants have engaged in the very conduct that the Consumer Protection Act and the Manufactured Housing Act were designed to prevent by unfairly and deceptively forcing homeowners to choose between paying exorbitant fees or risking the loss of their homes and investment. [Robert] Moser personally orchestrated, controlled, and directly participated in the unfair and deceptive conduct at Peters Pond that is alleged in this complaint, including without limitation, the unfair and deceptive sales conduct in connection with the sale of memberships."
The 94-page complaint includes testimony from two salespeople hired by Morgan RV to sell the $16,000 memberships.
In a sworn affidavit from salesman Robert Smith, he stated, "[Robert] Moser told me that sales would not be difficult because "we have a gun to the resident's head."
Mr. Smith went on to state, "Not one person purchased a membership who did not feel threatened. They felt like they had to, because otherwise they would lose their homes and their way of life."
Mr. Smith went on to explain in his testimony that although the $16,000 membership fee provided buyers with the opportunity to earn award points, which they could then use toward spending time at other Morgan and Ideal communities, none of the communities had units like those at Peters Pond.
"They were merely campgrounds. I eventually learned that most of the communities did not have cottages and that some of the communities to which we were trying to sell memberships did not even exist. The fact that Ideal threatened to kick people off of their home sites and was selling a product that did not exist made me feel like I was extorting the homeowners with a very smooth plot," Mr. Smith stated.
The salespeople were not only charged with selling the memberships to existing campsite owners, they were also required to sell manufactured homes provided by Morgan and Ideal Properties.
Salesperson Whitney Swanson said she soon learned that Morgan and Ideal were deceptive with buyers about the product they were purchasing, when she found a label that contradicted the sales pitches made.
In her sworn affidavit, Ms. Swanson stated, "When I arrived at Peters Pond, I was moved into a brand-new cottage, or manufactured home, in the community. I had heard Moser market the homes to buyers as "eco-green" homes without formaldehyde, and began to incorporate that information into my pitch to potential homebuyers. I later found a warning label in the home where I was staying, indicating the presence of formaldehyde. After I brought this to the attention of Louise Ferguson, an employee of Ideal, the warning label disappeared."
The lawsuit also alleges that Morgan RV Resorts violated homeowners' rights by restricting the use of "for sale" signs to sell their mobile homes and by not allowing brokers to be brought onto the property. The claim also alleges that Morgan RV violated laws by requiring potential buyers of these manufactured homes to purchase the $16,000 membership.
At the Saturday morning meeting, one resident told the story of a neighbor who had two buyers interested in purchasing her mobile home but they backed out of the deal because of the $16,000 membership requirement.
The lawsuit also claims that the defendants failed to obtain the board of health operating license required of manufactured housing communities from the Town of Sandwich.
Health Agent David B. Mason said the RV park, which is a seasonal campground, did obtain a license from his office required for a seasonal campground facility.
"From the local board of health perspective, we have appropriately licensed Peters Pond Park based on the definition of a campground facility. Because the residents do not live there year-round, it does not fall under the definition of a Manufactured Housing Community," he said.
Mr. Mason said he is happy that the attorney general's office is looking into this matter.
Mr. Turcotte said he breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday when he learned that the lawsuit had been filed, but he is reluctant to celebrate just yet.
"Morgan still owns the property. They still have a mortgage to pay. If they can't raise money from the membership fees, they will find another way to raise it," Mr. Turcotte said.
In the lawsuit, the attorney general's office is seeking to stop the collection of the improper fees and to recover monies paid by consumers in violation of the Consumer Protection Act and Manufactured Housing Act. According to the complaint, more than 100 families paid the membership fee.
The AGs office is also seeking an injunctive relief to prevent Morgan RV and Mr. Moser from soliciting further illegal fees from consumers and to cease all unfair and deceptive conduct.
Mr. Moser did not return calls from The Sandwich Enterprise this week seeking comments on the lawsuit.
In a story that appeared two weeks ago in the Enterprise, regarding campers' complaints about the campground and the pressure from the sales staff, Mr. Moser said salespeople tend to use a variety of marketing strategies and tools, but that he would address the issue with his staff.