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July 2005 Vol. 20, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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DeSoto Divers of Florida

from the July, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When subscriber Mac Cauley (Vienna, VA) and his wife decided on a short April dive trip to the Dry Tortugas, they contacted the M/V Ultimate Getaway out of Fort Myers Beach, FL. Billed as Floridas largest dive boat on its website (http://ultimategetaway.net), the 100 aluminum vessel offered all-inclusive service, unlimited diving and individual bunks for 20 passengers.

Cauley learned that the entire boat had been booked by DeSoto Divers of nearby Arcadia, so he was directed to DeSotos co-owner, Floyd Rice, and promptly paid a $200 deposit. Then in February he put the $1,020 balance on his Visa card. Airfare was not included, so Cauley made his own reservations, for another $500.

In April, Cauley called the Ultimate Getaway office to get taxi information from the airport to the dock, but was told the trip was in jeopardy because DeSoto Divers was having trouble filling the boat. Cauley had heard nothing from DeSoto since making his prepayment, though DeSoto had all his contact information.

Cauley told Undercurrent, I called Mr. Rice to find out what was going on but had to leave a voice mail message for him to call me. I never got a return call. When he called the boat again, Cauley was informed that Rice had cancelled the week, forfeiting a $1500 deposit.

Sherry, the reservationist for the Ultimate Getaway, told Undercurrent that the Ultimate Getaway has a 75- day cancellation policy, which is why Rice lost his deposit. She said Rice had been offered other dates, or a one-half charter plus fuel surcharge on the original date, but he refused them, though he supposedly had nine bookings, one shy of a half-boatload. Like Mac Cauley, Sherrys had a hard time contacting Floyd Rice since then.

In one of his last phone messages, Cauley threatened legal redress unless he heard back from Rice. That finally drew a response, but it wasnt what Cauley had hoped for. According to Cauley, Rice said he didnt appreciate being threatened, and advised that Florida law gave him 30 days to provide a refund. In frustration, Cauley lodged a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau of West Florida. Then he contacted Undercurrent.

Floyd Rices story seems to change with whomever he talks to. He first promised BBBs Brandi Conaway that he would send Cauley a full refund, but then decided keep Cauleys $200 deposit, claiming it was nonrefundable. Cauley insists he was never notified that his deposit was locked in.

Undercurrent was able to reach Rice (his answering machine also takes messages for a funeral home) who told us that he had decided to withhold the $1500 he had forfeited to the Ultimate Getaway from the refunds to his clients, on the advice of my attorney and the Florida Better Business Bureau. So he was only sending $750, less than two-thirds of Cauleys original expenditure (not to mention the money lost on unused airplane tickets). When we tried to question him further, Rice replied, Ill give my attorney your number. This is ridiculous, and hung up.

Brandi Conaway told us that the BBB does not offer legal advice, and that she had been unaware of Rices latest switcheroo.

This is an example of the problems that can arise when making reservations through unknown third parties. According to Ultimate Getaway, DeSoto Divers had never booked a trip with them before. Cauley took a chance with an entity that was a stranger to him and to the boat. In this case, it came back to bite him.

Of course, Floyd Rice assumed a business risk when he put down his $1500 deposit for the trip, then passed that risk along and much more to unwitting clients who got nothing but aggravation for their money. The deal stinks to us, but it seems pretty profitable for Rice. Oh, and as this issue went to press, Mac Cauley had never received a check for any amount.

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