Belle River seniors wait 7 months for belongings, moving company at centre of fraud investigation

Sitting in their new home, Garry McGonigal and wife Elaine haggardly watched on as movers delivered all of their personal belongings from Alberta, seven months after they initially moved. The couple had allegedly fallen victim to a nation-wide fraud scheme, after hiring a moving company based out of Toronto.

“It was really hard. It was everything from family pictures… pride went out the door.”

Garry McGonigal stands next to some of his belongings that he and wife Elaine waited seven months for. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Sitting in their new home, Garry McGonigal and wife Elaine haggardly watched on as movers delivered all of their personal belongings from Alberta, seven months after they initially moved. 

"I know every one of these items," said McGonigal. "It's nice."

After Alberta's economy took a turn, the couple decided to move back to Belle River to be closer to family. 

"We saved up so I could pay for the move and pay for the drive," said McGonigal, adding that he had reached out to about 14 companies for estimates.

"All I came out here with was five pairs of holey jeans, this shirt, some t-shirts, a pair of loafers, my hiking boots, and a hard hat," - Garry McGonigal

He said he chose to go with 'Green Moving Company' based in Toronto and they agreed on a price of $3,400. Once their belongings got to Toronto, the couple received a call saying it had been re-weighed. McGonigal said the company told them they had to pay $10,000 or else they wouldn't get their belongings back.

"All I came out here with was five pairs of holey jeans, this shirt, some t-shirts, a pair of loafers, my hiking boots, and a hard hat," said McGonigal. "That's it."

Paying the difference wasn't an option, McGonigal said, because the couple lives on a pension. They had to make do with what they brought until the issue could be resolved.

"Other than the air mattress, my bag, a laptop and a very good printer, that was it," he said. "We're both seniors, we're battered around and injured."

Toronto police investigation

The couple had allegedly fallen victim to a nation-wide fraud scheme.

"We came to learn that Toronto Police Service had started an investigation through their fraud department," said Lilian Bahgat, a lawyer at Community Legal Aid in Windsor. "They were actually investigating several moving companies that were conducting their business in this manner.

The McGonigals are suing the company — which goes by many different names — in small claims court for the maximum of $25,000 and for the damages the couple has incurred.

"We think we have a case," said Bahgat. "The law in the Consumer Protection Act sets up what moving companies can and can't do and we think we can establish that the defendants didn't follow that legislation so we do think there are damages that are clients are entitled to."

Lilian Bahgat at Community Legal Aid said they're grateful to the Toronto police and the Canadian Moving Association for helping get the McGonigal's belongings back. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Calls to the company led to disconnected numbers except for one that reached a dispatching service, where a representative told CBC the company no longer works with 'Green Company Moving.'

"There are multiple victims," said Det. Ian Nichol with Toronto Police Service. "We have been able to locate at least some of the property and return it to the victims with the assistance of the Canadian Movers Association who had generously agreed to transport the victims' property to the homes where they are currently living."

Nichol said at least 50 people were victims of the alleged fraud scheme, and three people have been charged. 

Finally home

As for the McGonigals, they seemed to be most happy to receive their dining room table, after using lawn chairs and a cardboard box to eat on since March.

"She was crying," said McGonigal pointing to his wife. "This is not how we planned living out here."

Until their belongings arrived Wednesday, the couple had borrowed appliances and purchased used clothing. They're relieved to finally settle in their new home.

"It's fantastic," said McGonigal.

McGonigal points to his dining room furniture, which he's happy to have back, after using lawn chairs and a cardboard box to eat on since March. (Meg Roberts/CBC)