I-TEAM gets results after veteran couple say a moving company held their priceless items hostage

By  | 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

The Clevengers spent over $2,500 to begin the process of moving their priceless items from Wisconsin to Georgia. (Source: WRDW)

LINCOLNTON, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- A few years ago, Carl and Lorraine Clevenger put everything in storage and took off to see the country in their RV.

They volunteered at national parks along the way, which brought them to Elijah Clark State Park in Lincolnton.

“We ended up over here and he started looking at houses,” Lorraine said.

They fell in love with the area and bought a house with an RV hookup. So they went online to find a moving company to bring their stuff down from storage up in Wisconsin.

“Our kids were in Indiana, California, and Arizona, so we didn't have any children we could force -- you know how you get your kids to make you move stuff,” Clevenger said.

They called a few companies and a company called Spirit Van Lines offered the best deal.

“She told me, ‘Oh yeah, we can handle all that. We can go pick up your stuff and bring it to Lincolnton,’” Clevenger said.

The deal got even sweeter when they told the company they were both military veterans.

With the military discount, the total cost for the move was quoted at $2,584.06. They paid by credit card.

They drove their RV up to meet the movers in August.

“So these two gentlemen show up and I say, ‘Are you here to pick up our household goods?’ They say, ‘Yeah, but we have about half a truck load. The rest of your stuff is going in half of our truck,’” Clevenger said. “When I opened the door, the guy said, ‘There ain’t no way we can pick up this stuff.’”

They told him it would cost more to pick up all of his goods.

“I said, ‘I'll be glad to give you $5,000 to take our stuff,’ because right then we were stuck up there in our motor home. And we had no other way to get it,” Clevenger said.

He gave the keys to the storage unit to a Spirit Van Lines employee, but never signed anything.

“The next thing I heard...was we want $14,000 some dollars to move your stuff,” Clevenger said. “I said, ‘You want what? We can't move it for less than $14,000.’”

We took a look at their paperwork and the contract they originally agreed to. The couple paid a little over $2,500. The paperwork very clearly says, “If you have not signed the mover's revised estimate, and the mover loads the truck, federal regulations say the mover has reaffirmed the original estimate and cannot demand additional payment at delivery.”

That’s something the moving company knows never happened.

Lorraine received an e-mail in September that said, “My supervisor let me know that we do not have paperwork for you, so therefore we cannot send your items out for delivery. Please sign these and return them back to me as soon as possible.”

We met the Clevengers around Christmas, four months after the scheduled move. They were living on Goodwill furniture, and Carl was recovering from a heart attack. They were still waiting on their belongings.

“I'm in there at night when I should be sleeping. And I'm thinking, ‘Oh damn, there's my retirement.’ I have a big beautiful retirement certificate from the Air Force. And it's things like that. I can't go back to sleep thinking about it,” Carl said.

“I worry about him stressing out about it,” Lorraine said. “I worry about when he starts to have pains again.”

So, we started looking into Spirit Van Lines. We found they have an 'F' rating with the Better Business Bureau. We filed an open records request and found 55 complaints on file with the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration for 2018 alone.

Out of 14 federal driver inspections, 10 were classified as out of service. Some didn't even have a commercial driver’s license.

As of July 2018, they’re not even licensed to transport household goods. At all.

But maybe most concerning of all -- all of this -- is documented under the business name 'Spirit Van Lines.' They are now operating under the name 'Moving Services.'

That name isn't licensed with the US Department of Transportation at all.

But we eventually located a man named Allen, who says he’s the manager of Spirit Van Lines. He said he was familiar with the Clevengers. After a very lengthy talk and not a lot of progress, the manager insisted their company did nothing wrong, so we asked for any documents that could show that.

“I don't have to send you anything. I don't need to prove you anything. What I am going to do, I'm going to take this gentleman to court and make him pay every single thing that we spent on his account,” Allen said.

At this point, we had uncovered a pattern of problems with this company, and very few proven cases of recourse. But after our I-Team stepped in, they did agree to deliver their goods for a more reasonable price.

But it wasn't cheap. It ended up costing the Clevengers an additional $7,000 on a job quoted at just over $2,500. They call it ransom money.

“If Laura hadn't gotten on the phone, we probably wouldn't have the stuff,” Clevenger said.

It doesn't feel like much of a win after so much time, stress, and money for the Clevengers, but it's tough to put a price tag on family heirlooms and closure.

“It's taken a toll on me,” Clevenger said. “I'll tell you, I'm tired.”

We found many others who have filed complaints against this company who say they never saw their belongings again.

Which is why the Clevengers are hoping their expensive lesson can keep someone else from going through the same heartache.

We found this isn't the only company doing this. It's a widespread problem in the industry, and our military community is high risk. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of recourse when it comes to who holds these companies accountable or who can shut them down.

We're digging into that now.

Copyright 2019 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved