The owners of an Arizona moving company frequently changed business names, but complaints of fraud, theft and property damage remained the same for years.
Customers knew them as Bargain Moving,?Allstars Movers, Allstar Moving & Storage, Allways Moving & Storage,?Easymoveaz, Movers and a Truck, and the Moving and Storage Company.
Retired elementary school teacher Lori Lowe came to know them as scammers. She said that when she hired Bargain Moving last year, employees broke furniture, refused to deliver items?until she forked over an extra $400 and turned a four-hour move into a two-day ordeal.
"They way they packed, it was ridiculous, and they had to make?multiple trips," Lowe, 59, said.?"I would estimate?the move took 10-11 hours. It was?estimated 4-6 hours. The amount was supposed to be $629.93 and I ended up paying $900."
That was just the first day, she said.???
Bargain Moving was?owned and operated by?Amru and Emad Abdalla, brothers living in the East Valley who adopted new company names as the old ones racked up consumer complaints and fraud violations.
The Arizona attorney general announced Thursday?the companies are out of business, and Amru Abdalla is barred from opening any new moving and storage companies in the state.?
The move comes after?multiple civil enforcement actions against the Abdalla brothers for?violating the?state's Consumer Fraud Act led to?three legal settlements, broken restitution agreements and a four-day contempt trial for violating court orders.
A judge ruled that the Abdallas were in contempt and they agreed to stop doing business as part of a new settlement.
“We won't?tolerate business owners who continuously violate the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act and harm consumers,” Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement. “We have made it a priority to make sure movers are complying with the law."
The Arizona Republic has been reporting on consumer complaints against the Abdallas' companies for years.
- Fake invoices jacking up the quoted price
- Property held for ransom
- Bogus claims of license and bonding
- Charges for unearned fees
- Unpaid damage claims
The Abdallas could not be reached for comment. In 2014, in interviews amid a string of consumer complaints, they said they were victims of unreasonable clients and they tried to address all customer complaints.
The case?illustrates the difficulty in?enforcing Arizona's consumer protection laws. Civil penalties can fail to curb fraudulent conduct while the number of victims grow.
Lowe, who testified against the Abdallas at the?criminal contempt trial in December, said she was surprised the Abdallas were allowed to continue operating for almost 10 years. Authorities should have acted long before now, she said.
"That's why I was so willing to testify," she said. "I had no idea it had been going on for?this many years. ... I don't think people should have to go through?that for this many years."
Call for Action tracks victim complaints
People hiring the Abdallas' companies have recounted moving?horror stories that often began?with a great price?quote and ended with extortion demands: Pay us or you won't get your belongings.
The list of victims has been stacking up since 2009. The?Arizona Republic's Call for Action team has reported several consumer complaints about the?companies going back years.
In 2014, Alyssa Warner described her experience on a move from one Chandler address to another as "nightmarish." She said?the movers overcharged her, scuffed her furniture, broke dishes and damaged her antique jewelry dresser.
All of that happened after she said movers?refused to unload her furniture until she agreed to give them all the money she had.
"So I gave them everything in my wallet. He (one of the movers) looked at it and looked at me and got closer to me and said, 'Where's my tip?' And I said I don't have anything else on me, and he asked again, 'Where is my tip?' I felt intimidated and really scared," Warner said.
Stephen Mills of Scottsdale said he had a similar experience with All Stars that same year while moving belongings from his Scottsdale home to a storage company. The move was without incident. The same wasn't true for the billing, he said.
"I was very infuriated. Some of the furniture listed on my bill wasn't even mine," Miller said. "I tried to get them to address my bill, but they wouldn't."
Amru Abdalla at the time said his company immediately addressed the complaints
"This is not the way we do business," he said.
Consumers lured by discount mailers
The Abdallas generated business with direct mailers offering affordable rates.?
Lowe confirmed she reached out to the company for an estimate after receiving coupons in the mail. She said Bargain Moving promised specific hours, boasted no hidden fees, didn't charge for cancellations and had no minimum loads.
Lowe, who now lives in Sun City West, hired the company in April 2018 to move her belongings from Maricopa to a storage unit in Surprise.
"What helped me decide was the customer service," she said. "The woman?on the phone was super friendly. She explained everything. I just felt like I was in good hands. They gave me a quote. They gave me an actual figure."
The estimate proved worthless, she said. On moving day, the movers showed up in the wrong-sized truck and began work slowly.?Lowe said she left them to the job and drove on to Surprise to await their arrival.
What she got was a telephone call hours later saying she needed to meet the truck and pay an additional gas charge.
"They called me and told me I had to go to them and give them gas money or they wouldn't take my stuff to the storage unit," she said.
She refused and waited, all the while trying to call the moving office. Nobody answered. Eight hours later, the movers arrived at the storage unit.
"They came rolling up at 10 o'clock at night," Lowe said.?
But that wasn't the end of the problems. Movers left belongings behind and said they would have to finish the job the next day.?They unloaded the truck so haphazardly, the boxes wouldn't fit in the storage unit, forcing her to get another unit that same night.
And when someone at the moving company finally answered the phone, the person?demanded more money.
Consumers had complained of similar experiences for years.
Brittany Bridgeman received an All Stars flier in 2014 promising?"$39.99 an hour for two men and a truck, $49.99 for three men and $59.99 for more than three movers."?
When the three-hour move ended, Bridgeman said she paid $960 in cash. She said she never received an invoice. Bridgeman also said some of her furniture was damaged. She said she complained about the experience but no one from the company called her back.
In a?2014 interview, Amru Abdalla downplayed complaints, describing his company as the No. 1 moving company in Phoenix.
"I've only received one complaint about my movers intimidating anyone, and that employee was fired on the spot," he said in 2014. "When you do 600 moves a month, you will get complaints, and usually when we hear about them, we can resolve the issue."
The company for years operated under versions of the Allstars name.?Amru said his father started the?business in 1994, then left his sons to run it when he moved out of the country.
Court records show Amru was?the owner and manager of Allstars?and Emad Abdalla was its director, shareholder?and chief executive officer.?
After being sued and fined by the state, the brothers started operating under other names, including Bargain Moving.
State took years to close company
Arizona filed its first lawsuit against the Abdallas in 2010. The Attorney General's Office accused the Abdallas of repeatedly violating?the Consumer Fraud Act.
The Abdallas were fined $80,000, entered into a consent decree with the state?and agreed to change their business practices as part of the settlement.
The Abdallas?were prohibited from falsely claiming their company was bonded, used experienced?employees and was?insured.?
Four years later, the Abdallas had generated?an additional 26 consumer complaints for their moving companies.
Officials with the Arizona Department of Weights and?Measures, which at the time regulated moving companies, agreed Allstars was the No. 1 moving company in Arizona: for complaints.
The Abdallas have no connection to Allstar Metro Movers of Glendale, which has a high customer satisfaction rating on consumer websites.
From 2012 to 2014, the Abdallas' companies generated?at least 55 new consumer complaints. The Attorney General's Office sued, claiming the Abdallas had broken the terms of the 2010 consent decree.
The lawsuit ended in another settlement. In 2015, the Abdallas agreed to pay $77,000 in restitution to consumers, $107,765 in civil penalties, and $45,234 plus interest owed from the 2010 consent judgment.
The settlement barred?Amru from working in the moving, packing and storage business for two years. Emad received less than a year probation.
But records show, it was business as usual for the Abdallas.
Undercover officers: Schemes continue
Undercover officers?last year reported Abdalla's companies were engaged in the same conduct that had gotten them fined in 2010 and 2015.
They said the Abdallas were violating terms of the 2015 settlement. The company, now doing business as?Bargain Moving,?failed to provide consumers a list of fees;?didn't explain a 19% fuel surcharge;?charged for services they didn't perform; demanded payment prior to moves; and falsely claimed it was licensed, bonded and insured.?
Authorities claimed Amru?was back in the moving business by 2016, long before his two-year?prohibition expired.??
The Attorney General's Office filed a criminal contempt charge against the Abdallas, claiming, among other things, the Abdallas failed to make restitution payments required in the 2015 settlement.
Lowe and other customers?helped make the case.
A judge ruled against the Abdallas, who subsequently agreed to settle with the state—for the third time. They entered into a stipulated judgment in April that requires them to repay the 2015 settlement and make restitution to specific victims in a series of monthly payments.
That is cold comfort for?consumers who have flooded consumer protection websites with complaints about?Abdallas' companies for years and won't get any reimbursement.
"This isn't a valid business," Jonathan P of Tucson wrote in a 2017 post on Yelp. "It's a group of circus animals who claim to be professionals."
At least one Yelp poster pleaded for victims to get in touch with authorities. Another?woman said she resorted to unloading her own furniture. Some stories?included pictures of dinged and scraped walls.
"Don't use this company," a poster named Ab. R in Denver wrote in an April?2018, post. "The price is great but there comes that line, 'You get what you pay for.' "
Lowe said the AG's office notified her days ago that she would soon get a reimbursement check for her moving expenses. Although she is grateful authorities took action, she said the check won't cover items she later found broken or damage to her old house.
And she fears Arizona hasn't seen the last of the Abdallas.
"The only thing that concerns me, is that they are going to turn around and open up another kind of business," Lowe said. "People like this have their angles. They know what they're doing."
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Authorities shut down Arizona moving company with several names