Military community floods local moving and auction companies with complaints

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A local auction company was forced to cancel a planned auction this weekend after receiving an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 negative phone calls and Facebook comments.

Gene Daniels Auction’s review on Facebook went from mostly five stars to overwhelmingly one star virtually overnight.

The misunderstanding began when Daniels posted an advertisement to his Facebook page. It showed pictures of large wooden shipping crates that contain household goods that once belonged to members of the military. The crates were held in storage at Bay Area Movers. The owner, Jean McRae, hired Daniels to host the auction after the crates went unclaimed and unpaid for for years.

In his advertisement, Daniels claimed the items could contain “treasures” from “far away lands” and people on Facebook seemingly assumed Daniels was profiting off military members “lost” household goods.

“That a company would profit from property loss of one of our service members is disgusting,” one person posted on the WAVY-TV 10 Facebook Page. “Both companies are reprehensible. Please get the word out and maybe service members can be reunited with their belongings.”

“They just call up and say nasty things,” said McRae, who spent all day Thursday fielding calls from angry members of the military and their relatives. “It was very offensive and it really hurt my feelings because this is our business. We try to do the best job we can, and for someone to call up and say angry things to you, it’s uncalled for.”

10 On Your Side learned from Daniels and McRae, and then verified with the Navy, that none of the items inside the containers are “lost.”

WAVY News found out that Bay Area Movers were paid by the government to hold the crates in storage for 90 days — crates that service members shipped when moving back stateside. After that time was up, the service member was supposed to claim the items or pick up the tab for continued storage fees. The government notified the owners at the time that they would begin needing to pay rent. But McRae said no money ever came in. She allowed the boxes to sit, unpaid for and unclaimed for some time.

“The military stopped paying for them years and years ago,” she said. And finally, enough was enough, and she needed to free up the floor space. So McRae sent three certified letters to the owners of the containers, notifying them of the impending auction.

McRae said no one claimed the items or paid up the back rent. She’s out nearly six figures.

“Unfortunately, these have been here for years and years and years and we cannot continue to store it with no revenue from it.”

A spokesman for the Navy told 10 On Your Side:

The vast majority of the items in question have been in storage for between 10 and 25 years at the facility. They had been in temporary 90-day storage. The Navy worked with the storage facility to conduct a review of all 47 customers through the Service Member Civil Relief Act website. Of these only one customer is still active duty. The Household Goods Office assisted Bay Area Movers in getting contact information for the service member to contact him regarding storage unit fees.”

What added fuel to the Facebook fire? A savvy poster zoomed in on one of the crates and noticed the name of an active duty sailor and a moving date that had not yet passed. The poster then assumed Daniels and McRae were trying to profit off someone’s soon-to-be shipped goods.

Daniels said he simply took a picture of the wrong box and the Navy spokesperson confirmed that as well. They just wish the hundreds of people who posted negative, sometimes threatening comments on their business pages, would have asked before hitting send.