Victoria Iannucci thought it was a great price -- $2,200 for a move from her apartment in Coral Springs to her new home in Tennessee.
She'd worked hard to afford the move -- three months of overtime at Pet Supermarket, where she was retiring after 23 years at the corporate office. She found the moving company – something called Prestige Worldwide Moving – on the internet and the man who took her call that company, "Frank," seemed to know the business. All she needed to get the ball rolling was send in a $788 deposit check.
"So I sent him that check,"she said.
Then Prestige Worldwide just seemed to disappear, along with her money.
"Expose him so people like me worked very hard to give this man a down payment is not ripped off," she asked Local 10 News.
Jay Weisz also chose Prestige Worldwide for a move for his daughter from Minneapolis to Miami and got what he thought was a great price: $1,600. But then the movers from another contracted company had another idea when they got to the door.
"When they arrived at our apartment the price immediately doubled," he said. "And they said you could take it or leave it."
The move needed to be made that day, so he paid the jacked-up price.
"They absolutely had us and they knew that," said Weisz.
When it comes to Prestige Worldwide, Iannucci and Weisz are far from alone. A check of the Better Business Bureau showed 63 complaints against Prestige Worldwide and the Florida Attorney General's Office was hit with no fewer than 21, with allegations ranging from stolen deposits to being gouged thousands of dollars at the door to furniture taken but not delivered.
"In actuality this is theft,"said Iannucci.
In actuality, though, there is no company called Prestige Worldwide Moving -- it's a registered fictitious name linked to more than a half dozen businesses that was named after the farcical company in the comedy film "Stepbrothers."
The Better Business Bureau website lists the president as Antonio Duval, a Harvard-educated disbarred attorney living in Miramar, which is where Local 10 investigative reporter Bob Norman found him in his Porsche. And Duval, rather surprisingly, invited Norman inside to tell him his story.
He said he started his own long-distance moving company in late 2015 and that while trying to drum up business met a man named Matthew Pardi through a Craigslist ad who told him he could provide him customers from the internet in exchange for a 35-percent cut of the business.
He said Pardi also had a partner named Clifford Agnant.
"They said, 'We've created a company profile it's called Prestige and we've advertised. we've created a history for it, it's a fictitious name and what we can do we can attach it to your [company]," said Duval. "It already has a presence on the Internet."
He said he worked with Prestige for nearly a year and he said he learned how moving scams that "rape and rob customers" work.
"The foreman is trained to deceive the customers," he said. "First, in the sales operation, they intentionally low ball the offer."
Duval said the low offer sucks in the customers and then, when the mover actually shows up at the door, the next step is to get them to sign on the dotted line.
"They get you to sign some of the paperwork which now binds you," he said. "And you don't know that."
He said the next step is to load about half the customer's belongings.
"They load it loosely so it looks like it takes up more room than it should," said Duval. "And once they've got 50 or 60 percent of your stuff on the truck then they'll come and tell you, 'I know we told it would be 500 cubic feet but it looks like it's looking more like 1,200 to 1,300 cubic feet."
He said the scheme is known in the industry as "bumping" and customers often immediately demand to cancel the move.
"At which point [the mover] will say, 'No, you've signed this document here and we really own everything that's on the truck because the contract gives us a lien against everything that we’ve put on the truck unless and until you’ve paid us either for the work we’ve done so far or completed the move,’" explained Duval.
"They've (gone to) the customer's own household goods as ransom?" asked Norman.
"Precisely," he answered.
Duval claimed that despite the fact that many complaints were lodged in his direction he never actually engaged in the scam and that Pardi used his company information without authorization.
Yet some customers have alleged he was involved in their complaints – and he's been in trouble before. Duval was disbarred as an attorney after allegations that he misappropriated a client's money in New York. He claimed the money was actually taken by an associate.
After that he was charged in a property fraud case which he pleaded down to a misdemeanor before coming to Florida.
After the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates moving companies, received complaints regarding Prestige Worldwide, it cited Duval with various violations not related to the complaints, fined him tens of thousands of dollars, putting his company Sunquest Logistics out of business.
But a look at the deposit payment from alleged victim Weisz shows it went to a company called Moving Services Group, which is owned by a business associate of Pardi named Charlie Sean Ohana. When confronted at a warehouse in Pembroke Park where his business is located, Ohana refused to discuss the Weisz case on camera.
"I don't know Jay Weisz," said Ohana.
Later Ohana denied being involved in any scheme, saying he runs a clean business. He also told Local 10 that he offered Weisz a $1,000 refund, something Weisz said he did not accept because he said he was out twice that amount and wanted to see whoever was responsible for Prestige Worldwide prosecuted.
But Weisz said he got no action when he complained to Florida Attorney General's Office and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration among other agencies.
"I believe there needs to be oversight for these companies to ensure that consumers are somewhat protected," said Weisz. "Nobody can locate these people and nobody seems interested in protecting the consumer."
But what about Iannucci? Her $788 deposit check went to still another company, one called the Moving Accounting Department, which is owned by, you guessed it, Matt Pardi. Pardi refused to appear on camera, but told Norman on the phone that he was simply running sales and had nothing to do with any fraud that may have committed by any mover. And he said it was Duval who ripped off the customers and was now blaming it on him.
When told that it was his company that deposited Iannucci's deposit check, he agreed to meet off camera and supplied Norman with a $788 check made out to Iannucci.
"Are you serious?" said Iannucci when handed the check. "Thank you so much. Do you think it will bounce?"
The check didn't bounce.
But while Iannucci was made whole, dozens of clients haven't received a dime back. The Florida Attorney General's Office said it forwarded all its complaints involving interstate travel to the feds, which had no comment.
"There's obviously a scam going on that they are opening and closing companies on a constant basis and basically violating the rights of these consumers," said Weisz. "Yet there's no agency advocating for the consumer."