DOT accuses Seattle company of moving fraud

| Thursday, July 31, 2003

The Department of Transportation Inspector General is investigating a moving company in Seattle, its owner and employees in what is alleged to be a longstanding conspiracy to defraud consumers, according to the complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington at Seattle.

The criminal complaint charges the owners and several employees of Nationwide Moving Systems of Kirkland and Woodinville, WA, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and extortion. The company is also known as Nationwide Moving & Storage, Northstar Moving & Storage and American Star Moving & Storage.

The complaint accuses the defendants of engaging in a typical rogue mover operation, where customers are given purposefully low estimates and then their household goods are held hostage until they pay a final bill that is two to four times the original estimate. In addition, the complaint alleges the owners and employees regularly helped themselves to customers’ belongings and deliberately damaged items if they weren’t paid promptly.

The American Moving & Storage Association, a national trade association representing moving and storage companies, released a statement supporting the actions of the DOT Inspector General.

“We are gratified to see the federal government taking the necessary steps to protect consumers from these rogue movers,” AMSA President Joe Harrison said in the statement. “These people bear no relation to the legitimate moving industry, where honest, hard-working men and women succeed at meeting the challenge of providing highest quality service every day.”

“It also shows convincingly that rogue firms like this one, that operated without a license throughout its existence, have not felt constrained by the current federal requirements,” Harrison added. “However, increased attention and enforcement by the federal government on the rogue mover problem hopefully will deter these people from operating without regard for federal regulations and the relocating consumer.”

The Inspector General’s investigation identified 30 customers who said they were ripped off by Nationwide. Customers disputing the higher fees were told their goods would be unloaded, at the customer’s expense, and left on the street at the pickup site. Or they would be told their goods would be placed in storage, at the customer’s expense, until “full” payment was received.

Attempts to reach the company for comment were unsuccessful; three telephone numbers listed for the company were disconnected.

--by René Tankersley, feature editor

René Tankersley can be reached at renet@landlinemag.com.

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