United States

Maryland Man Says Moving Company Held His Possessions Hostage for Cash

Maryland delegate drafting legislation to regulate movers

A Maryland man said he experienced a move from hell because of the moving company he hired.

Al Wilkins said he hired Swift Van Lines LLC to move his things from Fort Washington until District Heights.

“I had asked if they wanted to come out and take a look, and he said that wasn't necessary so I said, OK, well great,” Wilkins said,

He said he received an estimate from the company’s owner, Juan Carlos Martinez, of $590 for a four-hour move plus travel time.

“I knew that was not going to happen with the amount of stuff that I had in that house,” Wilkins said.

So he budgeted for twice the estimate. He said he put a $118 deposit on his credit card and told Martinez he’d pay the balance on the card as well.

“And he said that would be fine,” Wilkins said.

On moving day, the movers showed up two hours late, at 2 p.m., Wilkins said. Only three men showed up, not the promised four, he said.

They took one truckload to the new house, then returned for a second load, which Wilkins said took until about 4:30 a.m.

Wilkins said he waited for an hour and a half for the second load to arrive at his new house. Then he called Martinez.

“He said, ‘Let me reach out to them and find out where they are and I'll give you a call back,’” Wilkins said.

The movers showed up with Martinez about 10:30 a.m., Wilkins said.

“(Martinez) said, ‘Well, do you have the remaining balance?’” Wilkins said. “I said, ‘Yes, I have my credit card and we can do it on the card,’ and that's when he told me, ‘Well, no you have to have cash.’”

Wilkins said Martinez also told him he now owed $2,800.

“I said, ‘Well, are you crazy?’” Wilkins said. “I said, ‘$2,800?’ I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me!’”

Wilkins said Martinez agreed to reduce the total to $2,400. Wilkins said he offered $300 in cash but Martinez insisted on the full payment.

“He said, ‘I have to go. We've got another job so you call me when you get the money,’ and then they left,” Wilkins said.

And they took his possessions on the truck, Wilkins said.

Over the next two days, Wilkins said, Martinez repeatedly called him.

“He was harassing me,” Wilkins said. “'When you going to have the money? When you going to have the money?’”

“I said, ‘Look, I already told you, I will make the payment with my credit card,’” Wilkins said. “And he said, ‘No, that's not going to work, that's not going to work.’”

Wilkins said Martinez finally agreed to accept a check. Wilkins made it out to Swift Van Lines and met Martinez at a Citibank in D.C.

Wilkins said the bank told Martinez the check could be deposited into his business account but Martinez said he couldn't do that.

Martinez wanted to cash the check, Wilkins said, so they went a few blocks away to Bank of America where Martinez has a personal account. The teller had Wilkins add Martinez’s name to the check and cashed it.

Meanwhile, Wilkins said he had no idea movers were at his house unloading the truck.

“When i walked in the house, I saw stuff kind of in disarray, kind of everywhere,” he said.

He said his furniture and boxes had just been tossed into random rooms and several items were broken.

He said he called Martinez several times to complain but never got a response

“This was the move from hell, because this company has done me wrong any way that you look at it,” Wilkins said.

Martinez hung up on News4 three times and did not return text messages.

It appears the company failed to follow three Maryland consumer protection laws:

  • It is illegal for companies to charge more than 125 percent of a non-binding estimate. In this case, they charged 400 percent.
  • Companies are not allowed to hold belongings hostage over a payment dispute.
  • And Wilkins was never given any kind of a receipt, which is required by law.

“Every instance in violation of the consumer protection act, there’s a potential fine of $1,000,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said.

Wilkins filed a complaint with his office after the move, but the attorney general can’t comment on his case since it is still open.

Frosh has taken legal action against moving companies in the past.

“If we find that kind of activity anywhere else, we are going to pursue it and get justice for the consumers who were ripped off,” he said.

News4 found a document showing Martinez created the company in 2013. It was called Revolution Moving and Storage LLC. In April 2016, the Maryland Insurance Administration fined Revolution $7,500 for providing a fraudulent certificate of insurance to a potential client in 2015. A month earlier, Martinez filed a document with the state, changing the name of his company to Swift Van Lines LLC.

The state said Martinez has not paid that fine. He also hasn’t filed a personal property return for his business since 2015.

The Swift Van Lines website claims to be accredited by the Better Business Bureau, but that’s not true. The BBB said they sent the company a cease and desist letter.

Angie’s List said it is also taking action for misuse of its logo.

And while Swift advertises for long-distance moves the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration confirmed the company does not have the authority to conduct interstate moves. In Wilkins’ case, he moved within Maryland, so federal authority is not required. The state allows moving companies to operate as long as they have a valid U.S. or Maryland DOT number, which Martinez has.

“You don’t need a license to operate in Maryland,” Frosh said.

He said if licenses were required in the state, Martinez would likely no longer have one because of that unpaid 7,500 fine.

“There’s a clear line that would stop folks from continuing to rip consumers off,” Frosh said.

State Del. Robert Flanagan was surprised to learn about the lack of regulation and oversight and is drafting a bill to change that.

“Craft legislation that doesn't harm the good ones, that encourages people to make wise choices when they select movers, but really puts the boot and kicks out those people who are taking advantage of the system and really ripping off consumers,” he said.

He’d also like to see stricter penalties for those who violate certain parts of the Consumer Protection Act.

“I think we need to make it very clear in the law that if there is a violation, a clear violation and refusal to turn over goods, that if that is flagrant,it really should be a criminal violation,” he said.

Flanagan pointed out there are a lot of good moving companies, but he has a message for the ones who try to take advantage of consumers.

“Well, watch out! We are going to go after you!” he said. “From a legislative standpoint we're going to working on it next year. You're not going to stay in business very long.”

Flanagan said the attorney general’s office or the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation would likely be responsible for overseeing moving companies. Frosh said he would support the legislation.

What you need to know if you are moving in:

Virginia: https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/moving/#movers.asp

Maryland: http://www.mdmovers.org/ and https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/ocp/a_z/moving_storage.html

D.C.: https://oag.dc.gov/node/442992

Interstate (Federal): https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/consumer-protection/household-goods/protect-your-move

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