Crooked movers victimize consumers and usually get away with it

Sunday, December 11th, 2016 

This story was reported by FairWarning, a nonprofit news organization based in Pasadena, California, that focuses on public health, consumer and environmental issues.

Gwen Caplan’s nightmare began with a Yelp search.

It was the summer of 2012 and the middle-aged mother of two was looking for someone to move her and her kids from San Rafael, California, to Glendale, Arizona. Money was tight, so Caplan scoured the web for an affordable but reputable moving company.

Her search unearthed several moving companies. One was called America’s Best Movers. It had terrible reviews online. “I said to myself, ‘It’s a good thing I used Yelp. I’m not going to use these people,’ ” Caplan would later tell a criminal grand jury.

Eventually, she found a company in San Jose called Encore Moving, which advertised that it had been in business for 10 years and had an A-plus rating with the Better Business Bureau. Caplan said she could find only one review of the company, and it wasn’t critical. She decided to ask for a quote.

Little did Caplan know, Encore was lying. Encore was a new entity, established just that year as an alternate business name for ASAP Relocations, a notorious San Jose moving company that once had an F rating from the Better Business Bureau. Prosecutors would later surmise that ASAP’s owner, an Israeli national with a fondness for gambling and expensive cars, established the Encore name as a means of escaping ASAP’s poor reputation.

In fact, Encore wasn’t ASAP’s only alternate business name. It also went by the name America’s Best Movers.

ASAP Relocations is the rare example of a moving scam that was prosecuted. The results were mixed, reflecting the stubborn persistence of these frauds. Some of the suspects even fled the country to escape prosecution. This story draws on 12 days of grand jury proceedings in which former employees and associates laid bare the scam’s inner workings. The record, never before made public, provides a glimpse into a kind of fraud that has become all too common in the United States.

About 35 million Americans will make local or long-distance moves over the next year, and many are at risk of coming into contact with a scammer. The problem, however, is particularly acute for moves made across state lines. States regulate local moves within their borders, but the federal government oversees interstate moves — and it devotes few resources to regulation and enforcement.

Possessions held hostage

Every year, the feds receive roughly 3,000 complaints about interstate moves, although that number likely represents only a fraction of aggrieved consumers because, among other things, many don’t know they can file a complaint. Of the complaints filed, about 600 involve so-called “hostage goods” situations, when a mover packs up a person’s belongings and demands more money before delivery.

“It’s just like being robbed,” said Lisa Adiletto, who complained to the government that she paid a now-defunct company called Certified Relocations $2,332 to move her from Philadelphia to Spring Hill, Florida, last year only to have the company demand $2,054 more, in cash, before it would deliver her stuff. “You have no choice. What are you going to do?” said the 47-year-old. “You’re moving 1,200 miles away. You have a time frame that you have to do this by. What are you going to do? You have absolutely no choice.”

The moving industry has long attracted fraudsters, but experts say scamming became more pronounced after the mid-1990s, when Congress shuttered the Interstate Commerce Commission as a cost-cutting move. Established in 1887, the Interstate Commerce Commission was, at the time, the nation’s oldest regulatory agency. It primarily focused on railroads and trucking companies, but its portfolio also included interstate moving, and some said it was responsive when consumers had problems. Nonetheless, politicians believed the commission had outlived its usefulness and initially transferred responsibility for regulating moving to the Federal Highway Administration.

From 1996 to 1999, complaints about interstate moving companies doubled, to 659. Then, in 2000, oversight of the interstate moving industry was transferred to the newly created Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, an agency whose central mission is to reduce truck and bus crashes, injuries and fatalities.  It’s been an awkward fit ever since. As the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted in a 2009 report on the agency’s inability to stop rogue movers, “FMCSA officials repeatedly pointed out to us that FMCSA is a safety agency, not a consumer protection agency, and that their first priority is ensuring safety.”

“They’re underfunded and they really don’t want the job,” said Jeff Walker, president of MovingScam.com, a website where consumers can get information about rogue moving companies and post complaints. Indeed, for fiscal year 2017, FMCSA has requested $794.2 million in funding. Of that, only $1.73 million is budgeted for interstate moving enforcement activities — for the entire country.

Currently, FMCSA employs 1,144 people. Only 14 of them work full time on interstate moving enforcement.

“It’s just not enough,” said Heather Paraino, a senior attorney with UniGroup, the parent company of United Van Lines and Mayflower Transit, which also sponsors Move Rescue, a pro bono legal service established to help the victims of moving scams get their goods back. But Paraino doesn’t blame the problem entirely on the termination of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Advances in technology have also played a major role in making it easier for rogue movers to scam Americans.

“The ICC didn’t have to deal with the Internet,” she said. “Today, all a criminal has to do is set up a website, which is pretty easy to do, to reach consumers all over the country.”

Little interest from Congress

Over the years, Congress has done little to address moving scams, other than to hold an occasional hearing. “If it was happening over and over again to the same people, they would organize and deal with it,” said Thomas Petri, a former Republican representative from Wisconsin, who was one of the few members of Congress to focus on the issue. But since there’s not a dedicated lobby for it, it’s not a priority on Capitol Hill, he said. Petri did succeed in getting language passed that set civil and criminal penalties for hostage goods situations, and established a federal system for logging consumer complaints, but was unable to get approved a provision that would have allowed states to prosecute rogue interstate movers using their own consumer protection laws. Instead, Congress approved language that permitted states to enforce federal rules against rogue movers in federal court — a provision that ultimately has not been widely used. “We got something through,” Petri said, “but I don’t know that it did a whole lot of good.”

Experts say rogue moving companies can be based anywhere, but complaints tend to concentrate in California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas and Illinois. Frequently, they say, the companies are run by Israelis, Russians, Egyptians or Moldovans. The firms tend to be modest in size, and a single entity can make as much as $2 million or more in gross revenue per year, said Francisco Acuña, a former FMCSA special agent.

The scams can take many forms. Some appear simply to involve movers rifling through a consumer’s goods and stealing whatever looks nice. Consumers told FairWarning about stereo equipment, a laptop and iPad, and a brand-new Tempur-Pedic mattress mysteriously disappearing from their shipments.

Other scams are more devious. A common scam involves moving brokers posing as moving companies. Moving brokers are middlemen who match consumers with moving companies. They don’t own trucks or employ moving crews. But some fraudulent brokers will portray themselves as moving companies on their websites or in their conversations with consumers. They’ll give price quotes and demand deposits up front. Then they’ll sell the consumers’ information to a real moving company that might not even know about the deposit on moving day and will demand more money.

Hallmarks of a moving scam include sales representatives who say they don’t need to do a visual inspections to estimate the weight and give price quotes, even for big, complicated moves; exceptionally low quotes when compared to other companies; and demands for up-front deposits of 20 percent or more to lock in a pickup date. But individual consumers frequently miss these red flags because most don’t hire moving companies very often and are unfamiliar with the nuances and standards of the industry. For example, consumers might not blink when a moving company fails to hand over a FMCSA booklet about “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” — even though it’s required by federal law.

The best defense against rogue movers is not to get involved with one in the first place. Because, if you do, your options for recourse are limited. Federal law limits a carrier’s liability to actual property loss, which means victims of moving scams can’t sue for additional damages if irreplaceable family photos or keepsakes are lost.

At the same time, victims of moving scammers also are surprised to find that local police and sheriff’s departments typically will do nothing to a rogue mover, even one engaged in blatant extortion. Except under the rarest of circumstances, most local law enforcement agencies, when presented with a complaint about rogue movers, will say they can’t do anything because it’s a civil matter, said Ed Magedson, founder and manager of the Ripoff Report, an online forum for posting business reviews. “You’re just screwed,” he said.

Shortly after Gwen Caplan emailed Encore, she said in her testimony and in an interview with FairWarning, a friendly sales representative named Claire called. Caplan explained she had three bedrooms, a dining and a living room to move. Claire quoted her a price of $2,449, with a deposit of about half due before the move. Caplan scheduled pickup for Aug. 17 and paid the deposit with her mom’s credit card.

On moving day, three movers showed up. Before Caplan signed anything, they started loading things onto the truck and wrapping her carefully packed belongings in extra packing material. At one point, the foreman asked if they could put some of the smaller boxes into a bigger box so it would be easier to move. “Sure,” Caplan said.

Finally, when the truck was loaded, Caplan was called into the kitchen and presented with paperwork to sign. One document cited a price of $5,000. What is this?, Caplan asked. Oh, it’s not going to be that much, the foreman said. That’s just a worst-case scenario. Hesitantly, she signed. With all her possessions on the truck, “I wasn’t really sure what else to do,” said Caplan, 54.

Caplan and her kids left for Arizona the next day. They hadn’t found a new apartment yet, so her plan was to call Claire as soon as she signed a lease to schedule the delivery. But when Caplan called a couple days later, Claire wouldn’t talk to her. She said someone named Linda was handling the move now.

When Caplan reached Linda, she said the price of the move had gone up because the movers had used extra tape and plastic wrap. Linda demanded Caplan give her another $530 before she would even schedule delivery. “There’s really not much you can do when someone says to you ‘I’m not going to deliver your belongings until you pay this ransom,’ ” Caplan said.

After Caplan forked over the money, Linda said a truck would come sometime in the next three weeks. Caplan was instructed to have a cashier’s check of $1,748.27 ready when it arrived. In the meantime, she slept on the floor, on a blow-up mattress, and attended a job interview in shorts because she didn’t have any other clothes. “Throughout most of September I had nothing,” Caplan said in an interview. “I can’t even explain how bad that was. It was a nightmare.”

During that period, Caplan re-examined the paperwork she received from the foreman when the movers picked up her stuff. She said she found that some of the forms said Encore, but others had something else scratched out and Encore written over it. Other forms said America’s Best Movers or ASAP Relocations.

Cherished keepsakes lost

When the truck finally arrived in late September, Caplan was elated — until she saw the condition of her goods. Mattresses were covered in dirt. A television had bird droppings on it. She said it looked like her stuff had been left in a parking lot.

Also, Caplan discovered several cherished keepsakes as well as basic items were missing: her high school yearbook, the legs to a sofa, an extensive collection of roughly 400 vinyl records. “I’m still in the process of replacing things after all these years,” she said.

In all, Caplan shelled out more than $3,500 for the move, roughly 43 percent more than her initial quote.  “I was furious. I was absolutely furious,” Caplan said. She remembers thinking: “If there was any way to gain some justice from the person who actually did all of this, God that would be wonderful.”

Three Mercedes and a Hummer

Roni Hayon was selling aromatherapy pillows and toy airplanes at a kiosk in Silicon Valley malls when he decided to open a moving company, according to grand jury testimony. He told his wife at the time that he wanted to make a million dollars, and the moving business was a good way to do it. But as an Israeli immigrant, Hayon struggled with reading English, so he needed his wife’s help filling out the paperwork to establish his company, according to grand jury testimony. Hayon couldn’t be reached for comment.

Hayon had other talents that would prove useful in his quest for riches, however. At 6’4”, 220 pounds, he cut an intimidating figure. He also had experience in the business, having worked as a foreman for another moving company owned by Israelis. He spoke some Spanish, in addition to English and Hebrew. And a former employee said he was ruthless.

In 2002, Hayon opened ASAP Relocations. He told his then-wife that he chose the name because it started with an “A.” He wanted to make sure his company would be first in the phone book.

Over the ensuing years, Hayon divorced and remarried, and aggressively grew his business, to the point where the sales staff was booking 40 to 50 local and long-distance moves per week. The success allowed Hayon to indulge in frequent trips to Las Vegas, where he liked to gamble, and to own a small fleet of luxury vehicles, including three Mercedes, a BMW and a Hummer, according to grand jury testimony in the case later brought against him and his company by the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office.

Former employees say he rarely dealt with customers or even came in to the office, but demanded that they stay in constant contact with him. “Everything went through Roni,” Jasmin Carpio, a former dispatcher, testified to the grand jury. “There was no decision that we could make on our own.”

Prosecutors say Hayon sat at the center of an elaborate network of corporate entities, alternate business names and fake offices, all of which were used to hide money, duck negative reviews and pay employees — some of whom were undocumented immigrants — under the table. The entire scheme relied upon sweet-talking sales reps who would gain the confidence of unsuspecting customers and convince them to book with ASAP or one of the many alternate or related business names, which included America’s Best Movers or ABM Van Lines, and Fast Move or Fast Moving Van Lines. One of Hayon’s sweetest talkers was a sale rep named Wayne Allen.

“He told me that I was in great hands, ” said 57-year-old Andrea Miller, who booked with ASAP for a move from Portland, Oregon, to Willits, California, in 2010 after Allen quoted her a price of $1,070. Her trust in him only grew when, a few days later, she had a heart attack and he reassured her that the move would go smoothly and as planned. “I contacted him when I got out of the hospital and told him what happened and he was all ‘Oh my gosh, God bless you,’ ” she said.

On moving day, two men showed up in a rented truck, three and one-half hours late. Arriving late is a common tactic of rogue movers; it creates a sense of urgency for customers, and limits their ability to back out of a deal. Which is exactly how Miller felt when the movers told her the bill had gone up about $430 because they had needed to use extra packing materials and shrink wrap. “I was stuck,” Miller said. Allen declined to comment for this story.

Working very slowly and forcing excessive and exorbitantly priced packing material onto customers was ASAP’s preferred method of jacking up the charges on moving day. A former employee named Alonso Reyes testified the company would charge customers $7 or $8 for boxes that they could get for around $1. One customer, Bilal Ahmed, reported being charged $900 for bubble wrap.

And if customers tried calling the oh-so-friendly sales rep who had promised no hidden fees, they would find their calls redirected to someone else, most likely Hayon’s office manager and dispatch manager, Adalinda Reyna-Mendoza, who according to prosecutors went by Linda and sometimes Cassidy. Her job was to defend whatever the movers in the field were doing.

Just doing my job

Reyna-Mendoza, now 31, said in an interview with FairWarning she just did as she was told by Hayon, that she had no authority to make decisions. “I couldn’t do anything without his approval,” she said. Working for Hayon was her first full-time job, she said, and she made $13 an hour, which she thought was good money for a single mom. Reyna-Mendoza said never had an inkling that anything Hayon asked her to do was improper. She said she didn’t try to conceal her identity; Linda is just her nickname and she used the email address of a former employee named Cassidy. “I just thought I was doing my job,” she said.

Reyna-Mendoza wasn’t the only member of Hayon’s crew who used an alias, according to prosecutors. Her one-time boyfriend, Noam Israeli, a friend of Hayon’s and an office supervisor and foreman, went by Nico or Nick. Maoz Kadesh, another friend of Hayon’s who operated a related company called Champions Movers, called himself Mike. Israeli and Kadesh could not be reached for comment.

Hayon preferred for customers to pay in cash, and he schooled his movers on how to encourage it, according to grand jury testimony. One of his techniques was to say that their credit card machine was down. Another was to charge a 10 or 15 percent fee on credit card purchases.

ASAP movers had lots of other tricks for backing customers into corners. As soon as they arrived for a pickup, they would start loading, even before customers had signed any paperwork. That way, if there was a dispute over the forms, the movers had leverage: The goods that were already on the truck. And the movers didn’t just load things randomly. One employee testified they always loaded the most expensive items first.

The foremen also would frequently try to get customers to sign blank forms that they would fill out later. Federal regulations actually permit movers to have consumers sign partially blank forms provided they include all relevant shipping information. However, ASAP and its related companies apparently used completely blank forms to surprise consumers with exorbitant fees for packing materials after the truck was loaded. Francisco Acuna, a former FMCSA special agent, said individual moving companies can make $2 million or more in gross revenue per year.

The foremen, in particular, had an incentive to jack up the price: Under Hayon’s direction, they received a 15 percent commission on the cost of the packing materials used. One foreman who was especially aggressive at running up the bill was Elazar “Eli” Nisanov, yet another Israeli on Hayon’s team. “All of the moves that he did we had complaints from customers,” testified Stevie Tausan, a former sales rep.

On one move, Nisanov, who could not be reached for comment, charged customer Deedee Urbano for shrink wrapping her patio furniture and her cat’s scratching post. Ultimately, he and the company tacked on $3,612.46 in additional charges to a move from Napa, California, to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, that was initially quoted at $3,633.41, according to records provided by Urbano. He also, at one point, shoved Urbano’s husband, Ray, for getting in his way.

“I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but it was kind of like being raped,” said Urbano, 55. “They throw you to the ground and you have no choices and then they leave. And you’re like ‘What just happened?’ ”

Auctioning off customers’ property

Employees said if customers were unable to pay his additional charges, Hayon would auction off their property. That’s what happened to Linda Litzenberg, who booked a 2010 move from Beaverton, Oregon, to Washington, D.C., with one of ASAP’s related companies, Fast Move. Litzenberg was initially quoted a price of $1,300, but after her goods were loaded the cost was inflated to about $3,200. She couldn’t afford that.

Over next year, Litzenberg testified, she tried negotiating with the company and made incremental payments totaling $1,200  — on a top of a $700 deposit she had already paid — but eventually her stuff was sold off.

“I lost my whole house-full of stuff,” Litzenberg later testified. “Living room furniture, bedroom furniture, and things like that. But I also lost everything that my daughters had for high school, everything that my kids had growing up. … Things that I care about are the things that probably ended up in a dumpster someplace.”

There’s a chance Hayon rifled through Litzenberg’s stuff before selling it. Before auctions, he sometimes looked over the warehouse to see if there was anything he wanted, according to grand jury testimony. Prosecutors claim Hayon generally treated ASAP and the related companies as his personal piggybank, using their various bank accounts to cover personal mortgage payments and household expenses, among many other things. He even stored his boat in the company warehouse. Meanwhile, former employees said he treated them terribly, sometimes bouncing their checks and forcing them to sleep in the truck on long trips.

"He just thinks he’s the most untouchable human being on the planet,” Tausan, the former sales rep, told an investigator. “He really has this demeanor, ‘Oh you stupid Americans, I’m just going to take your money and go home with it.’ ”

•••

By 2009, Hayon’s business practices had become too abusive for regulators and law enforcement to ignore. Several local and federal agencies, including the FBI, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office and the California Public Utilities Commission, formed a special task force to address the flood of complaints they were receiving about rogue moving companies in Northern California. At the top of their hit list was ASAP and its related companies.

The task force, however, quickly realized that the complaints against ASAP boiled down to he said/she said allegations, with victims telling one story and the moving company telling another. There was no way for investigators to conclusively prove who was telling the truth. So, with no other options, they decided to try catching ASAP in the act with an undercover sting operation.

Norman Levy, an investigator with the Santa Clara County District Attorney, posed as a customer who needed to move from Las Vegas to San Jose. Lisa Glazzy, a special agent for the Department of Transportation, assumed the role of his wife. The task force rented a storage unit in Las Vegas and filled it with used appliances, curtains, towels and old dishes, to make it look as though it contained the contents of a two-bedroom apartment. Then Levy e-mailed ASAP for a price quote. Wayne Allen, the sales rep, responded.

“I explained to him that I had a new job and had to move from Las Vegas,” Levy later testified. Levy said he already had relocated to San Jose, but his wife was still in Vegas and could oversee the pickup from the storage unit. He then sent Allen an inventory list of the goods, which Levy secretly knew weighed exactly 2,687.7 pounds.

A short while later, Allen came back to Levy with a quote that estimated the goods weighed 4,410 pounds. At that weight, Allen said the move would cost about $2,200. Anything over would be $0.50 per pound. Levy booked the move for Jan. 12, 2010.

On moving day, Glazzy wore a wire while Levy watched from a car near the storage unit. Three movers arrived in an Enterprise rental truck. The foreman was Noam Israeli, Hayon’s friend and office supervisor, but he identified himself to Glazzy as “Nick.”

Before Glazzy had a chance to sign anything, the two other movers started hauling boxes out of the storage unit and taping things up. Glazzy yelled at them to stop — everything was already boxed. She tried talking to Israeli, but he just made excuses: My manager wants it this way, it’s required for interstate moves, things like that.

Acting like a hysterical wife, Glazzy phoned Levy and asked him to call the moving company. Levy tried calling Wayne Allen, but he was forwarded to a woman who identified herself as Linda. Linda said the company had to take precautions when moving people’s stuff, that it was up to the foreman about how much packing material was necessary.

Meanwhile, Israeli presented Glazzy with paperwork to sign. It was blank, and it had on it the name America’s Best Movers, not ASAP. Glazzy noted that the forms didn’t have any information about the cost of packing materials. She asked Israeli if he thought the price of the move was going to be more than the estimate, but he didn’t answer.

Confronted at the door

Later, when the truck was packed and they were ready to leave, Israeli told Glazzy packing materials would cost her about $829. ASAP required 50 percent of the moving price to be paid before delivery. Glazzy had paid Israeli $1,100 when the truck arrived on top of a $200 deposit Levy had paid to schedule the pickup. But now the price had gone up, and ASAP was demanding that the couple pay the first $330 of the cost of the extra packing materials before it would schedule delivery in San Jose.

Levy arranged with Linda to deliver cash to ASAP’s office, in San Jose, two days after the pickup. When Levy and another undercover agent arrived at the warehouse complex, Hayon and two other men confronted them at the door and asked why they were there. Levy knew that ASAP had a lot of angry customers coming to its office, so he figured Hayon just assumed that’s what they were. But before things escalated further, Linda pulled up in her car. Linda turned out to be Adalinda Reyna-Mendoza, Hayon’s office manager and dispatch manager, who accepted the money and scheduled the delivery.

That undercover operation laid the groundwork for a raid of ASAP’s office. On Jan. 11, 2011, authorities charged Hayon, Allen and Reyna-Mendoza with five counts of grand theft and attempted grand theft. Twenty-seven months later, a Santa Clara County grand jury indicted the trio and five others, including Hayon’s wife, Noam Israeli, and Maoz Kadesh, on many additional charges. The District Attorney’s office said thousands of consumers suffered millions of dollars in losses as a result of their moving scam.

By then, however, Hayon and most of the others had fled the country, presumably to Israel. Only Allen, Reyna-Mendoza and Kadesh have been apprehended and convicted, and only Reyna-Mendoza was sentenced to jail, although she served her time in a work program instead. The rest remain fugitives to this day.

“They used me as a scapegoat,” said Reyna-Mendoza, who insists she is a victim in this case, too, but took a plea bargain to put it behind her. “Yeah, I got caught up in this situation, but it’s not me knowingly being malicious, stealing from people,” she said. “I was just at a stage in my life I was naïve.”

Yen Dang, a supervising DA with Santa Clara County, insists the case was not a total loss, because it got all of the defendants out of the business of scamming area movers. “Part of our goal was to move them out of the county and stop them from preying on victims in the county,” she said. “And we did that.” At least, that’s what she said in July.

Witnesses told the grand jury that Maoz Kadesh was, at one time, one of Roni Hayon’s closest friends. They both had homes in Afula, a small city in Israel. For a while, they co-owned a Mercedes Benz in San Jose. And, for a time, Kadesh worked for ASAP in various capacities.

In 2006, after a state audit found ASAP was underpaying its workers’ compensation premium, Kadesh established a company called Champions Movers in San Jose. Initially, Champions was not registered as an employer with the California Employment Development Department.  Rather, prosecutors found, Kadesh and Hayon used the company as sort of a pass through: ASAP paid Champions and then Champions would pay ASAP employees. The scheme, prosecutors said, allowed ASAP to pay its employees under the table, reducing its workers’ compensation premium.

Kadesh eventually pleaded no contest to insurance fraud in July 2015. He was sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay $160,000 in restitution.

At some point, according to grand jury testimony, Kadesh and Hayon had a falling out, and Champions moved into its own office and became a separate operation. But Champions seemed to be run similarly to ASAP; the Better Business Bureau got the same kinds of complaints about Kadesh’s company as it did for Hayon’s. Champions even established alternate names like ASAP did, names such as Mover Pros and California Movers.

‘Maoz is the boss’

Champions as a business, state records show, dissolved in January 2015. However, Mover Pros and California Movers continue to solicit customers on their remarkably similar websites, both of which are registered to a Maoz Kadesh.  Since September 2013 — six months after Kadesh was indicted — those business names have been registered in Santa Clara County to a Mark Cook.

Recent reviews of Mover Pros on Yelp make reference to a “Maoz” running the business.  A five-star review from Lisa P. in June 13, 2015, says “Mover Pros saved the day!! Maoz is the boss and kept in touch prior to the move to ensure we had enough time scheduled and if I needed help packing.” A one-star review, from Sept. 29, 2016, says Mover Pros broke an antique oak table. “I’ve been completely unable to get restitution from Maoz for the needed repair,” writes Madeline H.

On its website, Mover Pros lists as its address the same office space once registered to Champions Movers. The Better Business Bureau rates Mover Pros as a C-.

Women who answer the phone at numbers listed on the Mover Pros and California Movers websites readily take messages for Maoz Kadesh, but refuse to say where their trucks and warehouse are based in San Jose. One man with a foreign accent who answered the phone at California Movers claimed the company doesn’t own trucks at all, and is in fact based in Texas.

Both Mover Pros and California Movers advertise that they offer local- and long-distance moving services, which would require them to register with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the California Public Utilities Commission. However, a FairWarning check of both agencies found that neither entity is registered with the Department of Transportation, and only Mover Pros is registered with the commission, although its address is listed as an apartment in San Jose. A Juliana Sandoval is listed as the contact person.

That address and Sandoval’s name also appear on incorporation papers for Mover Pros filed with the California Secretary of State in 2014. On a mid-October day, FairWarning visited the address and encountered an elderly couple who didn’t speak English. The woman placed a call and eventually put Sandoval on the phone. Initially, Sandoval told FairWarning she used to work for Mover Pros, but doesn’t any more. Then, in a phone call about an hour later, Sandoval said she owns Mover Pros.  She said she had never heard of Maoz Kadesh and couldn’t explain why her company’s internet URL was registered in his name.

In November, when told what FairWarning had found, Dang, the supervising DA, acknowledged that she had in fact heard that Kadesh may be working for someone else in the moving industry. She said if the DA received complaints about him, it would act — but only if it received complaints. The DA isn’t to going to open a case just because he’s back in the business. “We target different problems as they come to our attention,” she said.

Numerous attempts by FairWarning to reach Kadesh by phone and email, through his attorney and at residences in San Jose, have been unsuccessful.

If Kadesh is still running those moving companies, it would be a classic example of a “chameleon carrier” — an operator who secretly returns to the industry after being penalized, prosecuted or put out of business. Chameleon carriers illustrate the never-ending challenge of policing moving scams.

“It’s frustrating,” said Acuña, the former FMCSA special agent. The process for developing tighter regulations is slow, but rogue movers are always inventing new ways to dodge the rules.

“It’s a continuing battle,” he said.

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We publish online and in print, often teaming up with other news organizations. We're working now on a new program with FRONTLINE producers, to air later in the year, and on the "Years of Living Dangerously," a series on climate change that has begun airing on Showtime. A story last year on the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention centers was co-published with The New York Times. Our updates to our long-running BankTracker project, in which you can view the financial health of every bank and credit union in the country, have been published with msnbc.com, now nbcnews.com, and we co-published stories in our What Went Wrong series on the economy with The Philadelphia Inquirer and New America Media. Our graduate students are working as researchers with Washington Post reporters, and our new senior editor is a member of the Post's investigative team. Learn more on our partners page.

Projects

Investigating Power update

Investigating Power update

Profiles of notable journalists and their stories of key moments in U.S. history in the last 50 years can be found on the Investigating Power site. See Workshop Executive Editor Charles Lewis' latest video interviews as well as historic footage and timelines. You can also read more about the project and why we documented these groundbreaking examples of original, investigative journalism that helped shape or change public perceptions on key issues of our time, from civil rights to Iraq, here.