State agents bust moving company in criminal sting operation

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MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A family moving to the Valley from Addison, Illinois did not know where to turn after a rogue moving company called to essentially announce their belongings were being held for ransom.

The family had already paid more than $3,000 to two different companies in the course of their move. Now a third, American Home Movers out of Las Vegas, was demanding an additional $3,100 payment or their belongings would not be returned.

A call to the Better Business Bureau was referred to the Arizona Attorney General's Office. From there, investigators with the State Department of Weights and Measures were notified. That is the agency which handles moving company issues. Local police departments are supposed to handle them as well, to an extent. More on that in a moment.

Investigator JJ Stroh with AZDWM told the family to agree to pay whatever the company asked, and they would be there waiting when the moving truck arrived. 

As the movers intended to grossly overcharge the family, their belongings were offloaded and no money changed hands. The semi truck driver was issued 14 citations for violations related the the vehicle's log, inspection and the driver's hour overages.

"People moving in and out all the time. We are easy pickings," said Stroh. "He was almost to the point of tears. Most people are."

That moving truck was ordered parked until repairs could be made. Friday night, it sat idling at a rest stop in Chandler.

JJ Stroh says he sees this type of crime all too often.

"Fuzzy numbers, doubling and tripling of price, extreme demands of give us the money or you're not going to see your stuff," said Stroh. "This is not just a paper crime. We're messing with someone's life."

Last year, there were 125 criminal complaints related to moving fraud of some type. Nationally, Stroh says it is a $3.5 billion criminal enterprise.

This week, he and other law enforcement agencies from around the state gathered for a training session dealing with this type of illegal activity.

"All the laws at the state and federal level and how this is an economic crime," said Stroh.

For instance, if you believe you are being scammed by a moving company and you call a local police department, they may respond by telling you it is a civil matter and they are unable to get involved. However, if a moving company is refusing to release your belongings, that is a crime and should be treated as such, says Stroh.

We were unable to reach anyone for comment at American Home Movers in Las Vegas. Stroh says many of these companies are elaborate criminal syndicates who only care about money and not your family's belongings.