HOUSTON—The Major Offenders Unit of the Houston Police Department has recovered an apartment full of furniture taken from KHOU-TV’s I-Team by a group of con men posing as a legitimate moving company.
The television station had set up an undercover sting operation on the group that state regulators say was operating the biggest moving scam in Texas. After promising low rates of $39.99 an hour for a minimum of two hours, the group was caught on video issuing a sky-high bill of more than $1,200. When the television station wouldn’t pay the inflated bill, the movers drove away, with all of our items.
Investigators with both the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and HPD’s Major Offenders Unit say the same scam has hit consumers in Houston, Dallas, Austin, and beyond. The same group of individuals has been tied to various companies operating in Texas for close to five years, according the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV does not have law enforcement authority and cannot make criminal arrests.
The movers are also known to tell victims they are taking their items out of state, most often allegedly taken to New York. However, KHOU-TV wanted to see if they were telling the truth. So the I-Team hid a GPS tracking device inside some furniture and hired the movers to take it to another apartment one mile away. When they eventually drove away with our items, the movers indeed did tell us our items were headed to New York.
However, the GPS tracker showed a different path, with the items staying right here in Houston. In fact, Officer Gilbert Brillon of HPD’s Major Offenders Unit said his ongoing investigation has revealed the movers sold off nearly all of our furniture within hours of when they drove away with it. His investigation also revealed that the person they sold it to rented a storage locker at the location our GPS unit would eventually lead police to.
Brillon obtained a search warrant and recovered the items at the storage lot. However, he says further investigation would reveal our missing flat screen television was nowhere to be found. Eventually, Brillon said he tracked the television to a residential home belonging to a relative of Andy Bueno, one of the lead suspects in the case. Investigators made the connection on their own, as our television was not one of the pieces of furniture we placed a GPS device inside.
Police say they took possession of the television and are currently storing it and all of the furniture recovered, along with our GPS tracking device in the police department’s evidence room.
Brillon said more victims have contacted him since KHOU’s initial stories aired.
”Because of your news story we have learned about different complainants we didn’t know about before,” he said.
That said, Brillon had been investigating the same group in advance of KHOU airing its initial stories. He has collected a wide number of case reports and local prosecutors credit him as a driving force in opening up new leads in the case.
Brillon said police have now subpoenaed Craigslist and other entities for any and all information they may have related to ads for various moving companies the same group has posted. Brillon said he also needs to interview more witnesses and victims before filing charges, which he expects could come soon.
If the lead suspects try to leave town to avoid charges, Brillon said a fugitive warrant could be issued that would follow them to whatever state they chose to move to.
Brillon said HPD is following new leads on other storage lockers where victims may have some of their items being stored. However, after seeing what the movers did with KHOU’s items, he is not hopeful of finding much.
”I don’t anticipate recovering much of this furniture. It is my theory, they’re not in the business of storing furniture. They’re in the business of turning the furniture over for a quick money profit,” he said.