Sixteen moving companies and 74 individual owners, operators and employees are under federal indictment in connection with schemes that lured customers into doing business with the companies by offering low estimates and then fraudulently inflating the price of the move and withholding delivery of their goods until customers paid the inflated price.
The indictments, handed down after an extensive undercover operation by the FBI and other agencies, charge conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion, mail fraud, and making a false bill of lading. Some defendants have also been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
"(These) indictments mark the most significant, concentrated attack by law enforcement against alleged corruption in the household goods moving industry," Special Agent in Charge William P. Tompkins of the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General's office said.
"Fraud in this industry affects thousands of victims every year in the United States," Tompkins added. "The unsealing of the Indictments today should make it clear that law enforcement efforts are focused on eradicating these types of illegal activities."
Investigators said the defendants represented themselves as a reputable and long-established moving company. They provided low moving estimates to customers to induce them to hire the company to move their goods. Once the customer retained the company, employees would arrive at the customers home, pack the customers belongings in a moving truck, and then typically rush the customers through the paperwork, causing them to sign blank or incomplete bills of lading and other documents, and failing to inform them of the total price of the move.
Once the customers goods had been loaded, the defendants would fraudulently inflate the total price of the move, often by thousands of dollars, claiming that the customers goods occupied more cubic feet than had been originally estimated and/or by overcharging the customers for packing materials.
When contacted by customers requesting the delivery of their goods, the defendants demanded full payment of the inflated price before delivery of the goods.
In many cases, the defendants would ignore customers repeated complaints about the inflated price and/or lied to the customers about the delivery of their goods, often using false names when dealing with customers over the telephone and in writing. When customers refused to pay the inflated price, the defendants arranged to warehouse customers goods and refused to divulge the location of the goods to customers. In some cases, the companies would refuse to adequately compensate customers for any damaged or undelivered goods.
Also, as part of this FBI investigation dubbed Operation Stow Biz, undercover agents posed in some cases as potential customers interested in moving their belongings. In each case, the moving company provided an estimate before loading the household goods into moving trucks. On each occasion, the moving company would later fraudulently inflate the price of the move and would thereafter refuse to deliver the goods until the inflated price was paid. In some cases, the inflated price was well over twice the original estimate.
Although the indictments charge 16 companies, the individual defendants charged are the listed owners and/or operators of over 40 different moving companies. In addition to the undercover operation, the Indictments identify 82 victims whose moves were fraudulently inflated by thousands of dollars.
"One of our quintessential freedoms is the freedom to move about the country, to change homes, careers, and, in essence, change our lives," said Marcos Daniel Jimnez, the United States Attorney for Florida's Southern District.
"These defendants struck at that freedom and used the victims own personal property to extort money. Their scheme is now over. These Indictments are a clear statement that we will not allow people to be cheated out of their own belongings by unscrupulous practices, Jimnez said.
Companies indicted include:
- Advanced Moving Systems
- Majesty Moving & Storage, Inc.
- Apollo Van Lines, Inc.
- America's Best Movers Company
- First Class Moving, Inc.
- The Movers Express, Inc.
- Star Movers, Inc
- All Points USA Relocation Systems, Inc.
- Century Express Van Lines
- Elite Van Lines Moving & Storage, Inc.
- Express Van Lines
- Moving Systems, Inc
- AAA Van Lines, Inc.
- Ameri Van Lines, Inc.
- Si Trucking, Inc.
- Southeastern Van Lines, Inc.