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2 HEALTH CLUBS SUED ON LACK OF BONDS TO PROTECT MEMBERS

Two Buffalo-area and two Albany-area health clubs are being sued by state Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco for allegedly failing to post bonds to protect consumers against sudden closings.

Vacco, who recently collected more than $33,000 in penalties from 30 health clubs for failure to obtain such bonding, said he has begun State Supreme Court suits against the Buffalo-area businesses operated by trainer Don Alessi Jr.

Vacco said Alessi Personal Fitness at 546 Delaware Ave. and 7810 Transit Road, Amherst, both face $2,500 penalties for failing to post a bond and posting signs in conspicuous places alerting members to the fact that bonds have been obtained.

The same penalties could await Elite Health & Fitness clubs of Schenectady and Scotia, which also have refused to sign agreements to honor the law and pay the state penalties and legal costs, Vacco said.

Alessi, personal trainer to local celebrities, including Mayor Masiello and broadcast journalists, could not be reached to comment.

Vacco and Health Club Task Force spokesman Mike Zabel said an investigation of the state's 700 health clubs was launched last January after several clubs in the New York City area folded and failed to return funds to clients.

Thirty-four clubs statewide, including the Alessi clubs, were cited in recent months for failing to abide by the Health Club Law, which is a section of the state's General Business Law, they said.

Vacco said he went after what he called the "rogue" clubs after his task force, headed locally by Assistant Attorney General Guy Giancarlo, found them "in direct violation of the law by not posting a bond."

Two other local health clubs took action to avoid problems with the attorney general's office.

Lumber City Rock Gym, a rock-climbing club in the Wurlitzer Industrial Park in North Tonawanda, and the Steel Mill Gym at 1234 Abbott Road, Lackawanna, both signed agreements to honor the bonding law, Vacco said.

The lack of a bond at a health club could cause consumers "tremendous monetary loss in the event they went out of business and shut down without adequate financial resources to pay refunds," Vacco said.

"Consumers who buy health-club memberships need to be assured that their investment -- in the form of often-costly membership fees -- is safe," Vacco added.

Health clubs can be exempted from the bond requirement if they provide members with the option of paying monthly installments and cap fees at $150 a month and limit contracts to 12 months or less, Vacco and Zabel said.

Vacco lauded Timothy S. Carey, chairman of the state Consumer Protection Board, for providing assistance in the investigation and noted consumers can call his office's consumer help line at 1-800-771-7755 if they have questions.

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