A federal grand jury in the Southern District of Ohio (Cincinnati) have charged twelve individuals with operating a multistate South Florida-based moving scam that allegedly victimized more than 900 people. Five of the twelve defendants have been arrested, including four in South Florida, and the names of the other seven defendants remain under seal, as they have not yet been arrested. The defendants are charged with conspiring to conduct the affairs of named moving companies through a pattern of racketeering activity, consisting of multiple acts of wire fraud, theft of an interstate shipment by the carrier, Hobbs Act extortion and identification fraud.
According to the Department of Justice press release, the fraudulent scheme involved the creation of multiple moving companies, creating fake online reviews praising the companies, and lying to customers about how long the companies had been in business. It is alleged that the defendants executed the scheme between April 2013 through July 2018 to enrich themselves by stealing from customers who hired their moving companies to move household goods.
According to the indictment, the defendants operated and worked through a number of affiliated moving companies, including: First National Moving and Storage; Flagship Van Lines; Independent Van Lines; JBR Underground; National Relocation Van Lines; National Relocation Solutions; Presidential Moving Services; Public Moving and Storage; Public Moving Services; Smart Relocation Services; Trident Auto Shipping; Unified Van Lines; United National Moving and Storage; and U.S. Relocation Services. The companies were located throughout the United States, including Florida, Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, California, Connecticut, Colorado and Missouri, and were operated principally out of a business address in Hollywood, Florida and maintained a warehouse in West Chester, Ohio.
When contacted by customers, the defendants would provide low estimates to do their move, promising to beat competitors’ prices – then after customers hired the companies, workers would load their goods onto a truck and increase the price of the move, according to the release. In some cases, movers stole possessions of customers who refused to pay the increased costs, the release said.
As customers filed complaints against one or another company, the defendants would shut it down and open a new company, according to the release. Along the way, the operators lied to federal regulators and hid identities of the true owners so they could obtain licenses to operate. The defendants and other employees allegedly used aliases with customers and regulators.
Read the DOJ Press Release here: Twelve Charged in Moving Company Scams