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AG’s Office goes after major Mackinaw City hotel owners

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The Lieghio family owns more than 20 hotels in Mackinaw City.

A hotel owner in Mackinaw City is being accused of unlawful business practices. The Lieghio family owns more than 20 hotels in the city. In a letter to one of the owners Tuesday, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office announced it is investigating three of those hotels, The Beach House Hotel, Crown Choice Inn & Suites and Hamilton Inn Select Beachfront. IPR spoke with independent reporter Morgan Springer who has been investigating customer complaints against Lieghio hotels.

IPR’s Dan Wanschura spoke with independent reporter Morgan Springer about the Attorney General’s allegations.
This interview has been edited for clarity.

Wanschura: When did you initially start investigating these hotels?

Springer: Listeners may remember this video that circulated last year. It’s of the hotel manager at Crown Choice Inn & Suites yelling at customer Jennifer Biela. Biela video taped the interaction. She didn’t want to be interviewed, but she told me her toilet was overflowing in her room. So she found the manager to let him know. They argued, as you can hear in the video. The manager then called the cops and accused her of malicious destruction of property. Ultimately, the charges against her were thrown out, but the video blew up on Facebook and then in the news.

Because of that, there was a lot of chatter about the hotel ownership. The hotel is owned by the Lieghio family. I can conservatively say they own more than 20 hotels in Mackinaw City. My understanding is that the two brothers – Joe and Enzo Lieghio – primarily run the businesses now.

A pattern or a one off:

It became evident it was a pattern – not just of customers complaining of poor treatment but also customers complaining of unfair business practices, which is what the Attorney General’s Office is alleging.

You actually tipped off the AG’s office about this didn’t you?

I contacted them back in September to see if they had a significant number of complaints against Lieghio hotels in Mackinaw City. At the time, they told me they were not aware all these hotels were linked and owned by one family. But ultimately they said my inquiry “prompted” them to look into it, which is why they sent me the information about their inquiry late Tuesday afternoon.

The allegations:

So far they’ve sent Joe Lieghio a “Notice of Intended Action.” It alleges “unfair and deceptive practices” in those three Lieghio hotels. The Attorney General's office cites complaints that typically go like this: customers book rooms at a hotel with vacancy. They get a confirmation saying they’re all set. Then they arrive at the hotel they booked, and it's closed. There’s a sign on the door redirecting them to another hotel that’s open, typically Hamilton Inn Select. They go there. And then – it’s a bit of an oversimplification – but there’s usually a tussle where the customer says they’re not getting what they paid for and the hotel worker says it’s too late to cancel and refuses a refund.

The AGs office actually sent a special agent to one of those hotels. They booked a room and had nearly the same experience I just described.

In the letter, the AGs office lists a bunch of things they identify as “unlawful conduct”, but the primary word I would use to summarize that list is misrepresentation. They’re alleging these hotels are not delivering on what they promise either in advertising or verbally.

We don’t know what the Lieghios say about all this. I’ve reached out to Joe Lieghio in the past for an interview. He’s declined on behalf of himself and his family. I reached out to him again Tuesday night and haven’t heard back yet.

Does this square so far with what you found in your own investigation?

Yes, and I think the story is even bigger than that. In reality, these are not new complaints. Many people I’ve interviewed say, because the Lieghio family runs so many of the hotels in Mackinaw City, it’s harder to hold them accountable for these consumer complaints. Obviously, it looks like the AG’s office thinks there’s a problem and is trying to address it.

What happens next?

The AG’s office says, based on its findings, it has the ability to sue the Lieghios or hold a formal investigation with subpoenas. The Joe Lieghio has ten days to respond. And the letter says the Attorney General is “willing to explore entering into an assurance of voluntary compliance.”

AG Mackinaw Hotel Notice of Intended Action:

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Download the PDF here:

Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.