FTC Settles “Free” Cruise Robocalling Case with Permanent Injunctions and Fines

A press release issued Monday by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced the resolution of the Middle District of Florida action involving millions of illegal telemarketing calls made on part of a Floridian cruise line. Johnathan Blake Curtis and Anthony DiGiacomo, the two alleged principals in the scheme, will pay a fine of $50,000 each, while seven other entities are permanently enjoined from making telemarketing robocalls.

The FTC’s October 2020 complaint alleged that the men and a number of corporate entities they and others controlled were involved with Grand Bahama Cruise Line LLC (GBCL). Purportedly, the defendants orchestrated a multi-level “telemarketing enterprise” involving robocall initiators, autodialers, sellers of travel, call centers verification, and payment authorization & processing companies. Through their telemarketing efforts, the defendants offered “free” cruise vacations aboard the MS Bahamas Celebration, a cruise ship based in the Port of Palm Beach.

“Although consumers received a nominally free 2-day cruise, the Call Centers’ telemarketers typically made aggressive sales pitches designed to induce consumers to purchase vacation upgrades, such as hotels, rental cars, extended stays, and additional excursions that could result in significant additional charges to consumers,” the lawsuit explained.

Beginning in 2013, the defendants reportedly ran operations from their own in-house call center, employing telemarketers to call consumers. In 2017, they stepped up operations by hiring call centers, including several of the other defendants, to advertise the cruise vacation packages. The complaint alleged that GBCL’s telemarketing arm bought call lists from lead generators that themselves conducted illegal survey robocalls to single out potential customers.

The lawsuit sought relief from violations of the FTC Act, the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, and the Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). In addition to placing millions of unlawful pre-recorded telephonic messages until 2018, the defendants failed to abide by the Do Not Call Registry, called consumers who asked not to be called, and communicated false caller ID information, in violation of the TSR, the FTC said in its complaint. 

The proposed order resolving the matter imposes a $6.4 million civil penalty jointly and severally against the individual and corporate defendants, to be partly suspended once Curtis and DiGiacomo each pay their fines $50,000.