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EAST. ST. LOUIS — A judge in East St. Louis has sentenced a New Jersey woman to more than 15 years in prison for heading a time-share telemarketing scheme that bilked $30 million from more than 22,000 victims across North American and Puerto Rico.

Jennifer Kirk of Howell, N.J., sobbed while making an apologetic statement to a federal judge before her sentencing Monday. She’d pleaded guilty in June to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.

Kirk acknowledged the harm she did to the victims and suggested she’d gotten in over her head. The judge was not swayed, calling her manipulative and aggressive.

Prosecutors say Kirk operated Florida-based Universal Marketing Solutions and later Creative Vacation Solutions.

Authorities say her companies pocketed the money telemarketers solicited from time-share owners.


VW sales topped 8 million in 2011

FRANKFURT — German automaker Volkswagen AG expects a tough 2012 even as it reported record sales of more than 8 million vehicles last year that put it ahead of Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp.

Volkswagen said in a statement on Monday that it delivered 8.156 million vehicles in 2011, a 14 percent rise over the previous year.

Toyota, whose production suffered from the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, has reported sales of 7.9 million vehicles in 2011, while General Motors Co. has not yet reported. It is expected to have sold some 9 million based on projections from the first three quarters.

Volkswagen, whose brands include Audi, Skoda and Seat, has a goal of producing 10 million vehicles per year and passing Toyota and GM to become the world’s biggest automaker by 2018. Some analysts have said that VW is already the world’s biggest because GM’s figures include vehicles made by a joint venture in China.

The Detroit-based automaker had been at the top for more than seven decades until Toyota took the crown in 2008.

Volkswagen’s top sales and marketing executive, Christian Klingler, said that “all the company’s brands have shown increases in difficult conditions on volatile markets” and called the 2011 figures “an outstanding result.”

But he added that the coming year will be demanding. “In 2012 the risks are increasing above all on European markets.”

The 17 countries that use the euro are struggling with a financial crisis over too much government debt. Fears that a country may default and damage the banking system have weighed on the wider economy and many think the eurozone economy may have shrunk in the last three months of 2011.

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