A Utah County jury hit Westgate Resorts with $1 million in punitive damages for luring people to its timeshare sales pitches in Park City by offering what turned out to be nearly impossible-to-redeem vouchers for free trips.

Consumer Protection Group — a corporation created specifically to sue Westgate on behalf of consumers who believe it cheated them — won the lawsuit involving 15 parties who said they were promised airfare and two nights of lodging in Anaheim if they attended sales pitches at the Westgate Park City Resort & Spa.

Attorney Scot A. Boyd said customers were given vouchers for the travel — supposedly worth $500 each — but "restrictions made them almost impossible to use."

Only one of the 15 parties involved in the lawsuit obtained the promised travel, "and that one came after only spending hundreds of hours and making numerous calls" over many years to obtain it, Boyd said.

While Westgate contracted with a third party to provide the travel, Boyd argued Westgate should have known travel vouchers it bought had little or no real value because "it was purchasing certificates for only $32, and it was supposedly good for $500 worth of air-inclusive travel. That by itself should have been a sign of trouble."

He said that despite numerous complaints by consumers, Westgate continued to offer the travel vouchers until it was sued.

Boyd said the 14 parties involved in the lawsuit who did not receive promised travel were awarded $500 each by a Fourth District jury in Provo last week — the purported value of the travel vouchers.

But it awarded an additional $1 million in punitive damages, which Boyd attributed to Westgate blaming problems on consumers and showing no remorse for their troubles.

He said the big award sends a message to all timeshare companies that they must provide what they promise in their sales pitches.

Boyd said the lawsuit involved only 15 parties out of more than 900 who have assigned their claims to Consumer Protection Group to pursue against Westgate — and that it plans to pursue even more of those claims now.

He said that company was formed to pursue claims against Westgate because it is difficult and expensive to pursue relatively small individual claims separately, "and that would not get the point to Westgate that they need to stop this behavior."

Calls to Westgate attorneys and to its corporate offices in Florida for comment were not immediately returned.

Westgate's Web site says it is the third-largest timeshare company in the world with more than 10,000 existing timeshare units and more than 400,000 owners.

It owns and operates 28 resorts. Its only property in Utah is at the Canyons Resort in Park City, and all claims in the lawsuit involved people who attended sales pitches there.

A Deseret News series in 2006 looked at how high-pressure sales and deception were common with timeshare sells in Utah. That included problems with freebies for sales pitches that ranged from people being told they had won a free trip (but had to listen to a sales pitch to obtain it) to restrictions on travel vouchers making them nearly worthless and salesmen "forgetting" to provide the promised prizes.

E-mail: lee@desnews.com