At first, it was a joyous occasion for the Greene family. They had made the winning bid at a silent auction for a week’s vacation for 12 at a swanky beach resort in the Dominican Republic.
Amid all the excitement at a restaurant in Plymouth, John Greene handed a credit card to one of the organizers of the charity fund-raiser, who rang up the $7,000 charge on the spot.
With the trip bought and paid for, the Greenes celebrated at their table during a raucous Kentucky Derby-themed party to benefit the Plymouth Youth Foundation, which operates a local youth center.
Now, seven months later, the mood has turned sour, with serious accusations of fraud and deception flying.
“I feel that [the charity organizer] has stolen my money in a fraudulent fundraising scheme,” Greene wrote in a three-page statement dated Nov. 26 and filed with Plymouth police within days of his family’s return from the much-anticipated but bitterly disappointing vacation.
When the Greenes arrived at the Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club resort on Nov. 10, they were told they owed almost $10,000 more upfront for food and drink and could not check in until they paid up.
The foundation that auctioned off the vacation says that everyone — but apparently not the Greenes — understood that the winning bid covered just accommodations.
“There’s got to be some kind of mistake,” John Greene recalled saying as he stood at the front desk with his large, baggage-laden entourage.
Greene immediately called Paul Duseau, the Plymouth resident who had donated his time-share on the island’s northern coast to the silent auction. After some initial promises to help, Duseau stopped communicating with them, he said.
The group briefly considered walking away. But at that late hour, more than 1,500 miles from home, John Greene whipped out his credit card and paid the extra charges, hoping to later recoup the cost.
Had they known the actual cost of the vacation would be almost $17,000, plus airfare, the family would not have taken the trip, said Grace Greene.
“It was not something we would have paid that kind of money for,” she said.
John and Grace Greene said they recall seeing a poster board for the Dominican vacation spelling out the details at the Alden Park restaurant, which hosted the fund-raiser.
In his statement to police, John Greene wrote that “the offer was for one week and it included a private villa, golf cart [to get around the complex], private pool, maid service, chef if you wanted breakfast in the morning, all meals, [and] one bottle of premium liquor a day.”
I’m going to jump in here right now to say that if I am bidding $7,000 on something (or $70, for that matter), I want to be damn sure I know what I am bidding on. Don’t forget: We all have cameras in our pockets. Greene should have taken a photo of the poster board and the bid sheet — and anything else that showed what was up for auction.
Greene, a recently retired letter carrier, said he threw up his bid on a whim, not expecting to win. He figured it would go for more than $7,000. (In fact, an inventory of items to be auctioned that’s still posted on the restaurant website lists the value of the vacation as $10,000, but no details on what it included.)
Suffice it to say the Greenes had a lousy vacation. They provided me with screen shots of text messages from the Dominican Republic in which family members plead for help from Duseau and a restaurant staffer who helped with the auction.
“We are having serious issues at this resort,” Greene’s daughter, Amanda, texted at one point. “They are saying there is no payment.”
Amanda described her parents as very angry and that “my mom is crying.”
I reached Duseau by e-mail, and he referred me to a lawyer, Rob Kraus.
Kraus insisted that “everyone knew” at the fund-raiser that the bid would cover only the accommodations, not a daily fee for food, drink, and other amenities. That per diem was $105 per person, according to dense e-mails from the club to Duseau, which Duseau forwarded to the Greenes hours before they were scheduled to depart and which they say they did not see until after they arrived.
Kraus said the Greenes should have known that $7,000 would not pay for everything for 12 people.
“The idea that you were going down there and eating and drinking and staying at a beautiful place by the beach all for $7,000, that’s an unreasonable impression,” Kraus said.
I asked Kraus whether bidders knew there would be substantial costs to be paid to the resort directly.
“Nothing was withheld, there was no intent to deceive,” he said. “This was not done in the middle of the night.”
But when I asked Kraus for supporting documentation, he offered only a one-page flier devoid of the kind of terms that would have prevented this dispute.
I did find a posting on the restaurant’s Facebook page promoting the auction that seems to contain exaggerations. It says the Dominican vacation included “a house in a gated community with a butler, maid and chef; private beach and a swimming pool at the house.”
Neither side did a good job documenting the terms of the deal.
But of the two, I think the foundation, as a regulated charity, has the bigger responsibility to people who are keeping them in business through their generosity.
What the Greenes were bidding on — and what they were not — should have been crystal clear.Sean P. Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.