WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Larry Ward made a big move when he decided to uproot his life in Riverside, California last year and transfer to Wilmington, North Carolina. His excitement to be here was crushed when he says the company he paid to move his belongings disappeared after they’d packed up the moving truck.
“He picked up all my stuff on October 27, and that was the last I saw of it,” Ward said from his new home in Wilmington, which still remains practically empty months after he moved in. “There are things in [that moving truck] that I could never replace. I have stuff my father made for me when I was a kid. Family photos.”
In addition to the irreplaceable sentimental items, Ward also had about $50,000 worth of furniture and belongings he’s spent a lifetime accumulating. When he hired Move Smart to pack up his house, they’d told him everything would be delivered to Wilmington within five to 20 days. He was initially okay with the wait time considering it was a cross-country move, but started getting nervous when six weeks went by and he still hadn’t heard anything about a delivery date from Move Smart.
When Ward called the Charlotte-based company and asked for owner Jason Pacheco, the man running the moving crew who he signed the contract with, he couldn’t get him on the phone. That’s when he decided to call police.
“When I talked to police officers about it, they said, ‘Well he hasn’t really committed any crime, the only thing he’s guilty of is he hasn’t delivered your stuff to you, so in a sense, he’s only guilty of being lazy,’” Ward recalled of his frustrating conversation with Riverside Police.
As he continued to research the matter, Ward found out Pacheco had been accused of doing this before. A news station in Arizona did a story about him in March after he failed to deliver items for a family moving from the Phoenix area to Massachusetts. Reporters there learned that Move Smart had its license revoked by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Nov. 2, 2020, just days after they picked up all of Ward’s belongings. Consumers filed 43 complaints about Move Smart with the Federal Government in 2020, and another 10 complaints came in in the first months of 2021.
“Once I found out he’d done it to so many other people, I couldn’t believe it. It was like no one could do anything to him. He had all my belongings, and my money, and he disappeared, and no one cared and nobody seemed like there was anything that could be done. I was lucky if any agency even returned my call,” Ward said.
Although he initially thought he was hiring a mover, Ward later found out he’d contacted a moving broker. That’s a middle man who shops out the move to competing moving companies, and then hires a moving company to do the physical move for you. Ward said the moving broker had good reviews. Move Smart, the actual movers they put him in touch with, had a failing grade with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), but he didn’t know that until it was too late.
The BBB, which fields thousands of complaints every year about moving scams, generally advises against using a moving broker.
“They are supposed to negotiate the price of the move between different movers for the homeowner. But in a lot of cases, there’s no real negotiation because they’re [connected] to the moving company,” explained Renee Wilkstrom, Communications Manager for Coastal Carolina Better Business Bureau.
Faced with the possibility of losing everything he owned, Ward hired an attorney to intervene. That attorney got the moving broker’s attention, and they were able to track Ward’s belongings down to a storage unit in California. But Ward hit another obstacle after flying out to California to visit the storage unit in person.
“He said, ‘I can’t open it for you without a court order or Jason’s permission.’ And I said, ‘Well this guy has done this to so many people. And you are protecting him and I’m the one who’s the victim here. I flew all the way out here from North Carolina,’” Ward said of the exchange with the storage company manager. “And so basically I went home empty-handed.”
Despite many road blocks, Ward and his attorney eventually got results. His belongings, which were in the storage unit he went to visit in California, have now been located. Trying to make things right, the original moving broker is paying for another moving company to bring Wards belongings to Wilmington in mid-May. He hopes his cautionary tale will warn others about this moving company in particular, and about moving scams in general.
“Especially when you cross state lines, a local police department can’t get involved, necessarily. They can take it to a state level, but they’re not going to cross state lines unless they have a great deal of evidence to prove that side of the case,” Wilkstrom said of the difficulty of finding recourse once a fraudulent mover has taken control of your possessions.
WECT heard back from Pacheco several days after initially reaching out to him for comment. He said he did not receive a message the station left for him at the Move Smart number listed at the top of the contract he signed with Ward.
Pacheco said he had every intention of delivering Ward’s furniture to him in North Carolina when he picked it up from his house in Riverside, but he’s been hit hard by the economic difficulties plaguing many businesses since the pandemic began. Pacheco said it’s hard for him to keep enough staff to make cross-country deliveries because many of them can make more money collecting unemployment than they can moving furniture.
Regarding the status of his license with the DOT, Pacheco said he only lost his license because he didn’t have enough money to carry insurance. He insists that as soon as he can get insurance coverage again, his license will be reinstated. Regardless, he expressed regret over the stress and hassle his business issues have created for customers.
“I take full responsibility for the delay. There’s no excuse,” Pacheco told WECT.
Consumers can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration if they’ve had a problem with a mover, but even then, it can be difficult for the agency to do anything more than revoke the company’s license to conduct interstate travel. Experts say it pays to do your homework on the front end when hiring a moving company, and if possible, work with a company with a local presence so you have somewhere to turn if things go wrong.