Family turns lemon into a contest win

With little imagination and help of his cute children, Phil Roberts found a way to turn a lemon into lemonade after he bought a mini-van on-line that turned out to be a real clunker.

On Friday morning, representatives from eBillme, on online billing account service, showed up at Roberts' house in Palomar with a check for $15,000 for his winning video in a contest looking for the worst online shopping horror stories.

EBillme spokespeople Mike Lizun and Alicia Buonanno knocked on his front door about 9:30 a.m. "Congratulations," Lizun said, when Roberts opened the door.

With a huge grin, Roberts, a minister at Hill 'n Dale Christian Church, called to his wife, Lisa, "Honey, we have visitors."

Actually, the video stars the Roberts' children: Ashley, 4, and Benjamin, Casey and Danielle, 3-year-old triplets.

Taking turns, the kids comically tell of the rhyming misadventure: "eBillme, we have a shopping confession, our futures were ruined by our dad's indiscretion.

Roberts saw a mini-van for sale on-line. "The picture made him feel real warm. And he talked on the phone with a guy named Norm," the kids chirp.

Norm promised an unbelievable deal on the tan wonder vehicle, as long as it was made off-line. Meaning there was no buyer protection policy offered by the on-line auction company or from a company like eBillme.

Roberts took an all night Greyhound bus from Savannah, Ga., where the family was living, to south Florida to pick up the van. Twenty minutes from home, the check engine light came on and the van started to smell bad.

The next day, on the way to a mechanic, the engine blew - kaput.

"Dad says we don't need to cry and holler, because this van only lost us nine thousand dollars," the kids say.

The contest was sponsored by eBillme, an electronic bank account, that includes fraud protection and a return guarantee that Roberts said he could have used in buying the van.

This is not the first contest Roberts has won using a clever video featuring his children, who obviously carry a ham-it-up gene.

Last year, a video narrated by Ashley won the Roberts a Valentine contest sponsored by Princess Cruise Line for a week's vacation on the Mexican Rivera. "That was fun. This was wow," Roberts said.