Kieran Ramsey, special agent with FBI Portland, stands by pallets with people’s belongings in a warehouse in Salem. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)
Michele and Ron Mitliori knew something was wrong when the company they’d paid to move their belongings from Nevada to Arkansas couldn’t tell them where their stuff was three weeks later.
The last time they’d seen their belongings was August 25, and they had trouble getting ahold of the movers, Miami-based East Freight Logistics, and getting answers on when it would get to their new home in Arkansas. They also said they got the runaround from Gold Standard Moving and Storage, which brokered with the company to move their belongings.
They later checked the Better Business Bureau, which listed dozens of complaints against East Freight Logistics.
In January, they received a letter from the broker telling them to contact Joseph Cox, a detective with the Portland Police Bureau, if they still wanted to track down their furniture.
The Mitlioris eventually got a FaceTime call from an FBI agent, who was in a Salem warehouse. As he sorted through boxes, they identified their belongings amid a chaotic, wall-to-wall mess of furniture, mattresses and boxes.
Federal and local authorities say a sprawling moving fraud scheme led by East Freight Logistics hauled the belongings of at least 300 people to warehouses in Oregon and California, with victims from every state east of the Rockies.
East Freight Logistics and Gold Standard Moving and Storage did not respond to emailed questions or requests for comment from Salem Reporter. A number listed as belonging to East Freight Logistics was disconnected.
Kieran Ramsey, special agent in charge of FBI Portland, said the largest share of items was dropped off at a 18,000-square-foot warehouse in Salem, which East Freight Logistics rented.
The Mitlioris said they will end up losing around $30,000 as a result of the scheme, having paid the companies nearly $10,000, spent another $7,000 on their trip to and from Salem and the cost of re-furnishing their home before they learned their belongings were in Salem.
Ron Mitliori just before heading back home from Salem to Arkansas with his wife, Michelle Mitliori and their recovered belongings. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)
Investigators searched the warehouse, which is near Greer Park, about six weeks ago after obtaining a warrant and found 450 pallets of items.
They used interviews with victims, lock numbers and labels to match people’s boxes and group them together.
“It came down to where they couldn’t identify something with a name on a box that was easy, they literally had to open up boxes and look for identifying information,” Ramsey said.
He said around 200 victims have gotten their belongings back, and FBI Portland hopes to have the rest returned within the next six weeks.
“Some people are going to really have a tough time,” he said. “They’ve already lost all their money in trying to make that move and they don’t have the money now to come and be able to get their stuff delivered to him. We’re doing everything we can, though, to make it as easy as possible.”
Ramsey said he has never seen a moving fraud case of this size in Oregon. In addition to the Salem warehouse, he said the scheme hauled items to at least a dozen other smaller storage sites in the Portland area and Marion County.
He said nobody has been charged with a crime in connection with the moving scheme, but he hopes federal charges will be filed. “We’re working towards that at this point,” he said. “But right now, our primary concern is to just get people their stuff back.
The warehouse in the days just after the FBI first searched it, and before investigators organized the belongings inside. (Courtesy/FBI Portland)
Chelsee Karnes said she hired a moving company through Gold Standard Moving and Storage to move her belongings from Eugene to Austin, Texas. She became concerned when they didn’t arrive within the contracted 21 days.
“Anytime I questioned where the money went, where my things were, why my things weren’t in Austin as they promised, they would hang up on me,” she said.
Karnes eventually learned from Cox, the Portland detective, that Gold Standard Moving and Storage were just brokers. The actual move was handled, by East Freight Logistics. “They were definitely not forthcoming with that information, that they were just the ones handling the money,” she said.
She said she wanted to believe the reason the company gave her – that there were few drivers due to Covid – because she didn’t want to accept that she’d lost all of her belongings.
“I trusted these people that I didn’t know, but I feel like they abused that trust obviously and took my money, but they did to so many other people,” she said. “I don’t know how you sleep at night.”
She arrived Thursday at the warehouse in Salem with a list of things that meant most to her, knowing she couldn’t rent a truck again this time. She got back her 18-month-old son’s footprint and handprint from when he was a week old, her grandmother’s jewelry and a shirt that belonged to her ex-boyfriend, who died a couple of years ago.
Karnes said she wants closure on why the movers took her money and dumped her belongings in Salem.
“What did you gain from my loss?,” she said. “Was it that important for you to one-up all these people so you can have an extra boat or whatever, go on a vacation?”
Chelsee Karnes stands in the Salem warehouse where her belongings were dropped off. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)
Beth Anne Steele, spokeswoman for FBI Portland, said anyone preparing for a move should make sure everything is in writing – including whether the broker is also the moving company or only a broker. They should check with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association before signing contracts or making payments to ensure the broker and moving company are legitimate, and check with the Better Business Bureau and read online reviews.
“Be aware that fraudulent brokers and companies often post fake reviews for themselves,” Steele said in an email, Steele said in an email, “but angry former customers will also be posting in their own forums,” Steele said in an email..”
Red flags before the move include the initial inventory and estimate being conducted by phone, moving companies estimating costs based on cubic feet and not weight, the company requiring a large down payment to book a move or set a price, the company requiring cash payment, the company using high-pressure sales tactics to make you commit to an estimate or rushing you to sign anything, company email headers not matching paperwork, the company’s listed address being that of a residential building or virtual office, or the company not providing a copy of Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move, a federal pamphlet movers are required to provide.
At the time of the move, she said, red flags include the carrier arriving in a generic truck or rental vehicle, the carrier starting to load items before discussing any potential additional charges, the carrier asking you to sign blank or incomplete documents and the carrier demanding cash or money orders in payment.
Steele said victims of moving fraud should contact the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General Moving Fraud hotline at 1800-424-9071 or [email protected]
They can also file a local police report, call 1-800-CALL-FBI or go to tips.fbi.gov. “Do not contact the Portland FBI directly. We need these tips to go through a vetting process and get referred to the proper office,” she said.
Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.
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