MIAMI — The U.S. Department of Transportation has shut down three South Florida moving companies after claims they held people's belongings hostage unless they paid extra fees — sometimes totaling thousands of dollars.
Federal officials said Tuesday the companies have committed fraud and are prohibited from operating for at least one year. The companies — Allegiant Van Lines of Davie, Northern Van Lines of Cooper City and Northeastern Van Lines of Pembroke Pines — are owned by Christopher Michalski of South Carolina.
"It's extortion," Anne S. Ferro, administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told The Miami Herald. The agency oversees interstate moving companies on the behalf of consumers.
"The individual homeowner or renter has agreed for the company to pick up their personal property and belongings, sometimes a lifetime of memories, and the company refuses to deliver the goods. We call it holding the customer's goods hostage."
Allegiant was fined $88,000. The other two, along with a company in South Carolina, were fined a total of $31,000.
The Moving Fraud Task Force began investigating in August after receiving more than 100 complaints.
Mary Muniz told The Herald she called Allegiant in May as her family prepared to move from Washington to Texas. She signed a contract for $3,500. When the movers arrived, they told her it would cost $7,000.
"I had already sold my home and I had to be out that day; I had no choice," she said.