A moving nightmare has left families across all islands and the mainland out hundreds of thousands of dollars in money and property. They turned to KHON2’s Action Line for help with their consumer complaints, and what Always Investigating learned could help other families planning a move.

It started as a trickle and quickly became a waterfall of complaints to Action Line: Two California-based companies sold Hawaii moving services to dozens of families, who haven’t seen their stuff or their money since as long ago as last year. One of the companies goes by the name Pineapple Express Movers, last seen by the Velez family when their goods were taken from their New Jersey home destined for Oahu.

“Our son doesn’t have his bed right now, his bed’s in there, everything, couches, beds, furniture, dresser,” said Ava Velez.

“Basically everything,” added Brandon Velez. “Even plates and cups. We had to go out and buy. We have 3 forks.”

Another company many people say has their money and belongings calls itself Hawaii Moving and Storage. A local Palolo couple used them to move back from Oregon.

“We’ve been getting the runaround,” explained Krystle Takasane. “Every week it’s the same thing, ‘We don’t know, oh somebody’s sick in the office, management doesn’t know, that’s a new person, that’s not my department.’ There’s always an excuse.”

They’re not alone. Dozens of people, on all islands and the mainland, have banded together through Action Line, Always Investigating and social media to hunt down their stuff.

“There are other people who reached out to us to say they’re pretty much living with sleeping bags at their household full of kids,” Takasane said. “Can you imagine telling your kids, sorry I don’t know where our stuff is, we’re going to have to start from scratch. Sorry guys all your toys, everything’s gone.”

Always Investigating learned the two companies share at least partial ownership or interests. We reached one of the Pineapple Express owners who admits to using multiple aliases.

We asked April Ritchie, who also goes by the name Ginger to various customers: Can you see where this would make people doubt any of you on any side? You’re going by different names, people don’t know where their stuff is, and it’s been months.

“Yeah, I know,” Ritchie said. “I understand all that. I get it. I have no control (of the company anymore) at all.”

Always Investigating responded: You have control over how you identify yourself though, right?

“I do,” Ritchie said, who added she is trying to come clean. She says there’s no money left in the Pineapple company account and that she’s been cut off, and alleges her partner took all the customer files and people’s items into Hawaii Moving & Storage control.

We asked: Where physically are the goods?

“Some of them are in containers that are at the port and some of them are waiting to be delivered,” Ritchie said. “And some of them are just sitting in storage because he can’t afford to ship them.”

We asked, sitting in California or Hawaii?

“It just depends,” Ritchie said. “We have stuff coming and going and this is for both companies. They’re all waiting for their things.”

Always Investigating called Hawaii Moving and Storage multiple times. A woman representing herself as a manager said she did not want to be quoted, and would not give any answers on where the stuff or the money is.

Families say that Hawaii Moving and Storage is telling them they’re not related at all to Pineapple Express, but is offering to finish the job Pineapple Express started, for a fee.

“They told us to dispute the charges on our bank account to get our money back,” Velez said, “and once we get our money back we would pay Hawaii Moving and Storage the exact same amount to move our stuff. So it doesn’t really add up, and we have to pay them in full because of the ‘time crunch’ we were under.”

The families say they can’t get either company to tell them where the goods are stored, nor get copies of port information if it’s already in a container. Brandon Velez demanded “proof of life” of his family’s things and got a text picture back.

“When they sent me the photos they’re still geotagged,” he said, “so I found out they’re in Santa Clarita, Calif., somewhere. We’re calling storage units to see if we can track down our stuff.”

Area storage companies tell me they can’t give the items to the owners if the storage unit renter is a third party like a moving company. Similarly, when a moving company ships a container, Matson says they don’t know what’s in it or who is the owner besides the entity scheduling the shipment, and said federal law prohibits them from disclosing any information to anyone but the entity that contracted for the shipment.

Many of the families have gone to police, sheriffs and regulators on the mainland and in Hawaii, only to be told it’s a civil dispute, though that’s not how they feel.

“It’s like we paid them to rob us. It’s been too much,” Takasane said. “It’s been a nightmare mentally, physically. It’s been draining for both of us and everybody else that’s been involved.”

Stephen Levins, who heads the state DCCA Office of Consumer Protection, says people have to be especially vigilant with interstate moves.

“They have a lot of leverage,” Levins said. “They have your stuff. They have your property. A lot of times what they’ll do is grossly underbid what it is, then they say they’ll hold your goods hostage, which is illegal, you can’t do that.”

Household movers and shippers are regulated by a federal agency – the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — that we found has taken in dozens of complaints recently about both Pineapple Express and Hawaii Moving and Storage.

An operator for the FMCSA complaint line explained: “We forward it to the investigators. If the company is found in violation they may be fined, some companies get shut down. We can’t promise a relinquish of the goods or negotiate a price, but we can certainly apply pressure to encourage the companies to work with the consumer.”

“We don’t wish this on anyone because this has been a long and ridiculous process,” said Palolo resident Cameron Lai. “At the very least get our stuff back. But if we can stop them from doing business and having anyone else go through this that would be a plus.”

Following Always Investigating’s calls as of this evening, some victims have been offered container access through the moving company. Others are now planning to head to California to try to retrieve storage-unit items. And the federal agency has been able to track last-known locations of some of the goods.

We’ll follow up as these families get closer to getting their stuff back.

Here are some extra tips for anyone planning a move:

If you have questions about an issue or problem you’re dealing with call Action Line weekdays from 11 am to 1 pm. at 591-0222 or send a message through our website.