An ongoing class action lawsuit against hospitality company Marriott and First American Title Company, the trustee for Marriott's land trust, alleges that Marriott's Vacation Club timeshare program is actually a racketeering scheme.
The proposed class action was initially filed in May 2016 under Florida's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute. Florida's RICO statute follows the federal law of the same name, which was introduced as a means of combating organized criminal activity. The action against Marriott marks the most recent use of RICO against a legitimate organization, highlighting the broad scope of the RICO statute.
Under Florida's RICO law, individuals who have received income from two or more predicate crimes within a five-year period can be charged with racketeering. These predicate crimes, defined in the federal RICO Act as "racketeering activity," include such offenses as fraud, embezzlement, illegal gambling and even murder.
Under RICO, an individual or company can face both criminal charges as well as civil lawsuits brought by victims of racketeering activity. The civil lawsuit against Marriott contends that under its Vacation Club points program, timeshare customers pay costs associated with real estate ownership - including recording fees, taxes, closing costs and title policy premiums - without actually owning any real estate. The plaintiffs allege that Marriott have committed over 180,000 incidents of criminal conduct since 2010.
In October, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Marriott responded to the allegations by filing a 50-page motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs "misread the statutes that they assert have been violated." First American filed an additional 27-page motion for dismissal, asserting that the plaintiffs willingly signed agreements that stated that they could not sue over the timeshare program.
However, the case progresses, it stands as a fascinating insight into how a complex federal and state law can apply in circumstances outside its original contemplated reach. RICO defenses are highly complex, requiring a skilled and experienced attorney. If you are facing racketeering charges, contact the Law Offices of Mark L. Horwitz, P.A. immediately for exceptional representation.