Twelve people are facing serious federal charges as a result of an investigation spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General into a five-year-long moving company racketeering scheme.
The twelve defendants have been charged with “conspiring to conduct the affairs of the moving companies through a pattern of racketeering activity, consisting of multiple acts of wire fraud, theft of an interstate shipment by carrier, Hobbs Act extortion, and identification fraud”, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Ohio.
Federal authorities say that the scheme took place between April 2013 through July 2018 and affected more than 900 customers.
Here’s how the U.S. Attorney’s Office described the moving company scheme:
“To execute the alleged scheme, the defendants allegedly lied to customers about how long their moving companies had been in business, claiming many years of experience for companies that had been created just a few months prior. The defendants also allegedly created fake online reviews, praising the work of their moving companies.
When potential customers contacted the defendants, the defendants would allegedly provide customers with low binding estimates to do their move, promising to beat their competitor’s prices. After the customers agreed to hire the moving companies, employees of the moving companies would allegedly load the customers’ goods onto the truck and then bump the price of the move. Under federal regulations, in a binding estimate a customer and the motor carrier must both agree in writing to a charge for services prior to the start of any work. When an estimate is binding, USDOT prevents interstate carriers from raising the price of the move after loading customers’ items.
The defendants and the moving companies would allegedly refuse to give back the household goods until customers paid the inflated prices. If customers did not pay the inflated prices on the moves, it is alleged, the defendants would, in some cases, steal the customers’ household goods, never delivering them.”
The defendants reportedly operated the following moving companies:
First National Moving and Storage
Public Moving and Storage
Flagship Van Lines
Public Moving Services
Independent Van Lines
Smart Relocation Solutions
Trident Auto Shipping
National Relocation Van Lines
Unified Van Lines
National Relocation Solutions
United National Moving and Storage
Presidential Moving Services
US Relocation Systems
Investigators say that when customers complained about the moving companies, the companies would often shut down and reopen with a new name, hiding the true identities of the owners.
The F.B.I. assisted in the investigation.
The Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General is encouraging anyone who believes that they were victims of this scheme to email [email protected].