Travelcomm: The inside story (as told by a salesperson who worked there)
Note: This is only part of the story. The part that is not told here is that:
My name is Shawn Mulkin I am 43 years old and I have information regarding Peter Sotolongo and his companies: Travelcomm & Patriot Travel.
The story seems to be sort of long, but I would rather tell the whole thing at once and try not to leave anything out.
I had a need to make a lot of money as fast as I could in late January, early February of 2004 to avoid foreclosure of my house after losing my flower business due to my wife’s back injury. I have an out going personality and have been in sales positions a few times in my life. A friend of mine told me that he had worked for this telemarketing company and had made a $700 in one week. I thought “The only thing that has kept me from being a salesman is finding a company and a product that I could believe in. My friend told me to go see Joe Harvey at Patriot Travel at 5895 Carrier dr, Orlando, FL 32819. I went and spoke with Mr. Harvey and filled out an application. After I was done with what little application process that there was, I walked through the “room”. I was expecting a call center like you would see on TV, people with headsets sitting in front of computers. Instead there were little cubbyholes with worn out desk chairs a phone and a mirror so that you could look at yourself while you were either waiting for a call or talking to a potential customer. I had no experience to base my opinion on so I just waited until my first day of training. It was a Monday and I was to be there by 10:30am. I was first to arrive. While I sat in the training room a young man came in to use the computer that was on the table. He went to Travelocity and a couple of other travel sites and seemed very disappointed with what he was finding. Eventually he got up and left the room. A few more trainees arrived and then we were greeted by a red-haired woman in (I would guess) her 60’s. She was very soft spoken. She told us what a wonderful company it was and that we could make “A Lot of Money”. She gave us a quick geography lesson on Cancun so we would know what we were selling. She told us about a very favorable magazine article that just went on and on about what a great company Patriot Travel was. She gave us a sales script. It was obviously a copy of a copy of a copy. There were parts of the script that had been marked out and an arrow added to point to what you should really say and still re-copied with the notations. One thing was made very clear. If anyone asks where you are located you are to tell them Canada. If the question got farther than that you were simply to ask to put them on hold and get a manager. We went over the script and she gave us some rebuttals to take home for overcoming objections and told us to study the script.
The script was not well written and did not flow like other scripts I had used in previous sales jobs. I took it home and did some revisions of my own and came back on Wednesday for the second half of my training. The red-haired woman, Mary Marshal, was at the doctor and we were greeted by a man who implied that although they were not married that they were partners and he worked in customer service. We also found out that one of the owners of the company was her son Dan Marshal. It was easy to tell which one he was because of his bright red hair. During the course of our second day of training there was some kind of argument about money with an unseen female and one of the owners. The man running the class mentioned that it was kind of funny that someone could be yelling at the owner of the company like that and rolled his eyes.
I came in for a short day on Thursday because I had to be at my other job by 4:00pm. Jerry Decker was on a raised platform in the middle of the room and he was mad. Obviously the previous day was just horrible and they had only done about $12,000 and he wanted to know if we were sales people or order takers. He also told us that if anyone asks where we are, (and I quote) “Don’t lie to them, our home office is in Quebec Canada but that we were in a call center in Orlando. I immediately felt better because suddenly I didn’t have to tell the lie that I was taught in training. Joe Harvey asked me if I wanted to sit with someone or just dive in. I thought it would be similar to shooting fish in a barrel because the offer seemed so good to be true. I sat there and studied my script and looked at myself in the mirror. The job proved to be way more difficult than I had expected. At least a third of the calls I received were angry people who wanted to be taken off of the junkfax list. The rest were skeptical and demanding and by the end of the day, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. I was exhausted from just talking on the phone.
The next day I came in for a full day and asked to be put with someone with experience. They put me with a young African American fellow who they said was one of their best. I listened to Jimmy lie to people about how if they didn’t take the offer today it would not be available to them ever again. I heard him tell people that he was in Canada and he wished he were in Minnesota where the temp was a nice warm 18 degrees (Fahrenheit). All the while it was 78 and sunny just on the other side of the wall we were up against. I couldn’t lie like Jimmy, but since Jerry Decker had told us to say that we were in a call center in Orlando, I didn’t have a problem with the rest, because it seemed that it could really be legitimate to me.
By my second week, I had gotten into the groove. I was using my positive personality and assuring everyone that it wasn’t too good to be true and I started selling some deals. I did 3 deals one day and people started coming over to see what I was doing. I just told them I am telling them what I’ve been told to tell them and I am building rapport with them. I found that if I could keep them on the phone for 12 minutes I had a good chance of selling them. Most of my sales were from callbacks because I wouldn’t lie to them about the offer ending as soon as they got off the phone. My pay check after the second week was over $700, but by the end of the week I already had misgivings that what I was doing was not as above board as I had hoped and believed. Dan Marshal came over to my cubbyhole one time and said “Why are you telling them you are in Orlando?” In a very rude manner he let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not to tell anyone where I really was. I said that Jerry Decker had told us that it was OK and he stormed off to yell at Jerry. I refused to lie to the callers. If they asked where I was I told them that our home office was in Canada and that I worked in a call center in Orlando. Then I started thinking; “If they want me to lie about something so minor, then what else could be lies?” One day, I was only there for about 3 weeks, it was really slow. The phones weren’t ringing. Dan came into the room and said that faxes had just been sent out and to get ready for the calls to come in. Just as he predicted, the calls started coming. Of course there was the 30% of the people whose fax number I wrote down and promised them that they would be taken off the list. Every day that I was there I faithfully wrote down a “fax removal list” and turned it in to a manager at the end of my shift.
It was becoming more and more difficult to take the calls because I was really beginning to think it was a scam. Once during a slow period, the people in my area of about 6 cubbyholes we were all talking. Jerry Decker’s grandson Grant (I believe he was between 15 and 17) was telling us how things really worked. He said that everything is an upgrade. He said even though we are told to steer callers to the finer hotels and explain to them that getting those hotels was based on availability. Grant said that anyone could have any hotel if they were willing to pay the upgrade of $99 per person. He basically said that it was our job to hook the callers in and get their credit card information and then, customer service which was behind a door with hand written threats that didn’t seem very professional, stating that no sales people were allowed beyond this door and there were no exceptions. I got a number of calls on the 800 number from customers who had purchased one package or another but couldn’t get through to customer service or were not getting “service”. When I first started, we were given the customer service number to give to callers who had already booked but before long we were instructed that we were not allowed to do that anymore because the customer service number was a 407 number which linked the company to Orlando Florida and not Quebec Canada. We were threatened with termination if we were caught telling anyone the number or that we were in Orlando.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came one day when Natalie a cute little girl (about 17 or 18) and one of their most consistent producers was standing in the middle of the room being screamed and cursed at by Dan for telling someone that she was in Orlando. He said something about how it cost him thousands of dollars in lawyers fees every time one of us dumb fucks fucked up. The weekend came and went. I went in on Monday and just couldn’t do it. I just tried to get people off the phone as soon as possible and I was not at all interested in selling this crap to anyone. I believe in the Golden Rule and I try to live my life by it. I suffered through Monday and went in on Tuesday. I didn’t even want to take my phone off hold for fear that someone would want something other than to have their number taken off the list. By 10:00am I decided that the situation was too shady and that I couldn’t do it any more.
I signed a paper in training stating that they could hold my last paycheck for 90 days in case of charge backs. At the end of the 90 days they were supposed to give me my last check and the 5% per check that they were “taking out so that if I had a charge back while working there they would take it out of that. When I went back after the 90 days, I was told that I had to wait an hour or so and come back and they would have it for me. When I got the check home I noticed that the 5% which only amounted to about $50 was not there. I called and talked to a manager, Mark I believe. He said he would look into it. I called a week or two later and talked to Jerry Decker and he said that he would look into it. I still heard nothing. I called again and was told that I needed to talk to Joe the accountant, but Joe was never there when I called. Finally, on 8/29/04 I was down in the area of Patriot travel and went in to see what I could do. I spoke to Joe Harvey and he told me I needed to go to customer service in a different building. I asked for the address and he conveniently didn’t know. He said; “I can show you where it is.” He took me outside and pointed down Lakehurst and said take your first left and look for 2800. Not happy but knowing that Joe was pretty much inept, I thought I would try it. Joe, consequently, gave me a pretty severe tongue lashing when I asked him for a “Credibility “TO” turn over while still working there and I didn’t have the address to the shell office in Quebec. I told him that if he was the manager then he should have it memorized since it was his home office. But I digress. I went looking for 2800. I of course didn’t find it. I came back. I saw a younger guy I recognized but only know as JD. He is somewhere between sales person and manager. I asked him if he could tell me the address of customer service but before he could answer, someone was screaming go up front. It took me a second or two to figure out that it was Peter Sotolongo yelling at me, and not someone else. I said I need to know where customer service is you still owe me money. He kept screaming go around front. I yelled back, “Give me my money”. He said that if I don’t work here then I will be charged with criminal trespassing, go around front. I turned around and went to the big metal door to the parking lot and kicked it open with my foot and walked outside. This door has no latch and swings freely, when leaving work I usually had my hands full with my portfolio and the empty containers from my lunch and pushed it open with my foot. At this point Dan Marshal and Peter Sotolongo came out and continued screaming at me and asking me if I wanted trouible. They were pretty menacing and I am short of stature so they loomed over me. I said “Come on hit me. Peter said he was calling the cops. I said “Yeah, call the cops because I would like to start telling anyone in authority what was going on here. It looked as if Peter dialed 911 from his cell phone and started telling them that he wanted me arrested. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to the police or not but decided that I couldn’t do much from jail and left immediately.
Later that day, I decided that since Mary Marshal had seemed to be the most reasonable and least sleazy of all the people I had dealt with that she would be my best bet to get someone to at least listen to me. I called and they said that she was on the line with a customer and could she call me back. I said I would hold. I was cut off and I called again. I told them I would wait until tomorrow if I had to. I was disconnected again. I called again and I assume they saw my number and just weren’t going to answer it. I called back after dialing *67 to hide myself from caller id and of course it was picked right up. I tried to jog her memory of who I was but they have so many people go through there that she said that she didn’t remember. I told her of my problem of getting the rest of my money and she said that it was not her department and that I would have to talk to the allusive Joe the accountant. I tried to press her thinking that she was not as bad as the rest of them and she hung up on me. I called again and was hung up on again. Finally I called and she said that she had heard what I had done over at the other building and I should be ashamed of myself and they had filed a report and they were keeping my money to pay for damaged to the door I pushed open with my foot. I said that is great, could you give me the report number and the name of the officer they filed it with because I was ready to turn myself in and start telling everyone who would listen what I had observed. I said I will start with him and then I will go to the State and eventually I would go to the Federal government. She hung up on me again.
So I called the 800 number again and talked to Keith, another manager. He eventually let me talk to either Pete or Dan and he told me that they were going to press charges and that they were calling their lawyer to sue me (I’m still not sure for what).
I got on the computer and started looking for information on these creeps and I was pleasantly surprised to find several pages including bad reports from the better business bureau. That is how I came to the Junkfax group at Yahoo!
My wife and I are destitute. She has a severe back injury and cannot work. She has just been denied for the second time by the Social Security Administration for disability. If I hadn’t needed the $50 I would probably have just let it go. Now I don’t care about my money. From what I have found out, these guys have ripped off thousands of people all over the US and Canada. I consider it my civic duty to do what I can to put them out of business or behind bars or both.
A Posting from Lin Bickelmann:
You're going to love this. I just spent 10 minutes on the phone with
Right away, I started the conversation saying, "This is TRAVELCOMM
INDUSTRIES, INC. dba Patriot travel in Orlando Fl, right?
(BTW, I never said he was the owner)
in Orlando, FL -- just using the name Patriot now.
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