Following an undercover investigation by CBC's Marketplace into a group of national moving companies accused of deceptive pricing, Toronto police have arrested two key figures and charged them with a slew of criminal offences.
The charges come after a raid Friday, as the two bosses arrived at a Scarborough address where the moving companies are based. Within moments, a large police presence descended on the premises, seizing the company's assets and recovering customers' belongings, including family heirlooms and the ashes of at least one deceased person being held by the movers.
A police press release alleges customers were "provided with a low-cost contract for moving their belongings," but once the items were loaded onto a truck, "the men would contact the customers making a demand for more money."
Customers who wanted their belongings delivered "would be forced to pay the inflated prices," often in the thousands of dollars.
Friends and business partners Cemal Ozturk and Dogan Celik, both 30, have been charged with four counts each of fraud, mischief, possession of property obtained by crime and false pretence, as well as conspiracy to commit indictable offences.
Ozturk and Celik were detained for at least 72 hours, until a bail hearing Monday. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
WATCH | A Marketplace hidden-camera move reveals company's late change in pricing:
In an email statement at the time of the Marketplace investigation, Celik said his companies value customers and treat them with respect, and that his companies will be "doing a full review of all of our operations and procedures to ensure that the companies are following these important company values."
Despite several attempts by phone, registered mail, email and social media, Ozturk could not be reached for comment at the time of the Marketplace investigation. CBC has been unable to identify Ozturk and Celik's lawyer.
Days later, Toronto police also arrested a 27-year-old woman in connection with the investigation.
Amethyst Jones, of Toronto, faces a slew of charges including 22 counts of fraud over $5,000 and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
Customers forced to pay inflated prices
The findings of the police investigation parallel what Marketplace producers heard from customers, including during a hidden-camera segment with one of the companies connected to the two men.
A Marketplace producer posing as a customer was told her move would cost vastly more than originally quoted. This was only revealed to the undercover producer once the movers had left with her belongings.
Police say Ozturk and Celik operated a series of moving companies offering services across Canada, changing names often as bad reviews would accumulate. Their businesses included O'Canada Movers, Roadway Moving and Storage Inc., SafeBound Moving and Storage Inc., Canadian Principal Movers, All You Can Move, Right on Track Moving, New Vision Moving, Greenway Moving and 12282569 Canada Inc.
It is alleged customers who were unable to pay the inflated prices had their belongings held in an undisclosed warehouse, incurring storage fees.
"It is definitely the scam of the season," Nancy Irvine, president of the Canadian Association of Movers (CAM), said in the spring. Her organization receives complaints from the public about moving companies and different types of alleged scams.
Irvine said CAM has received many complaints connected to the family of companies in the Marketplace investigation.
These companies are not affiliated with her association, which has a rigorous certification process. In fact, CAM issued a warning about the companies on its consumer alerts page in June 2021.
The association is working with police to return or store belongings that were held by the businesses after the police raid.
Other moving companies offer trucks to rescue belongings
During the raid on Friday, the police seized computers and other equipment, while some officers headed into a neighbouring warehouse where customer belongings were being stored.
Rocco Scocco, the lawyer for a number of customers of the affected moving companies, said the raid is "the first step." He also said other law enforcement agencies should step up investigations into moving companies that bait customers with budget prices and then switch to much higher costs once they have the belongings.
Over the weekend, families and moving trucks arrived at the warehouse to collect their boxes and furniture. Some of the trucks and crews were donated free of charge by other moving companies. In many cases, customers had not seen their belongings in months — not since a moving truck had come to collect them.
Police also removed a luxury Volvo SUV and Range Rover connected to the business.
Multiple civil lawsuits against Ozturk and Celik are expected to be launched by former customers.
Toronto police believe there are other customers who have been victims, and urge them to contact police as the investigation continues.