AM station's travel deals probed

Daytona Beach News-Journal (FL) - Friday, October 31, 2008

An Ormond Beach AM radio station is still on the air - but its business is being investigated by police.

One Palm Coast woman complained Wednesday that she has not been able to get $4,000 in refunds WELE-1360 AM promised for various vacation packages she never received, according to one Ormond Beach police report. Other police reports tell of similar problems, including train tickets that went nowhere because the station wasn't authorized to give them out.

As police look more closely at the deals, the sound of WELE's call-in shows and advertisements makes Mary Rhoads livid. She bought travel packages from a call-in show on the station owned by Doug Wilhite and now finds she can't get anyone to make good on the deals.

"He shouldn't be allowed to stay in business unless he cleans up his act," said Rhoads, 65, a Palm Coast retiree who in February bought a $561 package that was supposed to include airfare to New York and five days in a SoHo apartment.

"I'm angry," she said.

Police are investigating three recent complaints since the demise of WELE's Premier Travel Show was announced Tuesday in a letter to customers and on the station's answering machine. Also Tuesday, the radio station that bills itself as Daytona Beach's most powerful shut down its offices and call center. And the answering-machine message suggests the station's ability to continue operating is uncertain.

"We will keep the radio side of the business open as long as we can," according to the message by a man who identifies himself as Wilhite and claims that everything he owns has either been put up for sale or taken back by banks.

Wilhite, who did not respond to a News-Journal e-mail seeking comment, said on the message he hopes to be back in business shortly.

"If you have vacations or credits due you, we hope to be able to supply these at some time in the future," according to the message. "At this time, we have no staff available to work with you, no income from which to give refunds. We will mail tickets as they come in."

It's too late for Rhoads, whose vacation was slated for October. She ended up using her frequent flier miles and Embassy Hotel points to make a women's get-together that had been planned.

Ormond Beach police have received complaints throughout the show's history. But the show's cancellation spurred a new crop this week.

Sgt. Kenny Hayes said the problems occupy an extremely gray legal area.

"(For it to be a criminal charge), you have to show that something was intentionally sold to defraud someone," Hayes said.

The station's most well-known local host, Big John, said he's not sure what's going to happen next.

"I wish Doug and I were closer," John said. "But I think WELE is going to be on the air longer than anyone thinks. Rumors of the demise of the station are greatly exaggerated."

Edition: N-J Final
Section: Section C
Page: 03C
Record Number: 410309184
Copyright, 2008, The News-Journal Corporation

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