Crooked Car Transporter Takes Granny's Honda Hostage

Here's how she beat the racket.

Crooked Car Transporter Takes Granny's Honda Hostage
C.S. Muncy
Back together: Florence Katz and her Honda

It's hard to muster much enthusiasm for seeing a 93-year-old get behind the wheel of a car. But if you had spent some time with Queens widow Florence Katz during the six weeks her 2000 Honda Civic was held hostage, you would have rooted for her to get back in the driver's seat as quickly as possible.

As soon as she could steal her car back from the clutches of a corrupt auto transporter, that is. And somehow try to rescue it from a New Jersey auto lot, where it was being kept.

Before her car was swindled from her in March, she drove herself to the gym daily and to the grocery weekly. Not that she's stubborn. On trips to the city to see shows, she says, "one of the other girls" in her posse does the driving. "I know my limits," says Katz. "My reflexes aren't what they used to be, and it's hard driving in Manhattan."

Her car—along with her laptop, her medications, and her walker—is integral to maintaining her independent life in the same Flushing apartment she first shared with her husband after he came home from World War II—long before her neighborhood was a thriving Chinatown. (She is now the only non-Asian resident in her building.)

Although the winters push her to Florida a few months each year, she has no intention of ever leaving her home in Queens. Apart from nightly check-ins from her daughter in Minneapolis, who "calls every evening to make sure I'm still alive," Katz says, she has lived quite autonomously since her husband died in 1976. "I never expected to live this long," she says, but the retired nurse doesn't look or act her age, and she likes her life.

But being separated from her car in March halted her independence. Her troubles began when she got involved with a Long Island company called A Blue Knight Auto Carrier (or "A Eastern Connection." Or "Autotrail Transporters." It depends on who's asking).

Whatever its name, it's run by Greg Sclafani (or "John," depending on when you call) and his wife, Marguerite Cermola Sclafani (who also goes by "Kathy").

Operating under multiple names has allowed the couple to do business for years, all the while defrauding at least 400 customers, according to a consent order and judgment obtained last November by the State Attorney General's Office. Under the court order, Sclafani was told to stop ripping off customers and reimburse those whom he had already defrauded.

It didn't work. Florence Katz and others were swindled after the consent order and judgment, according to new papers filed by Andrew Cuomo. The AG's Office is now trying to put Sclafani out of business; the next hearing on new complaints against him is scheduled for next month.

You're thinking that this doesn't rise to the level of, say, Wall Street rip-offs, but if it's your 93-year-old grandmother getting screwed over, maybe it really does.

Greg Sclafani's scam is simple enough, as laid out in the numerous court documents and records compiled by the AG's Office. His company claims to move people's vehicles long distances. But though he runs an ad claiming that ABK has "terminals in 48 states" in the Yellow Pages with an 800 number, he neither owns nor operates a depot or trucks.

He is just a broker, which the AG's Office says is misleading to customers. Key to the scam is that Sclafani persuades customers to pay up-front, usually telling them that his credit-card machine is on the blink and then convincing them to allow direct deposit from their checking accounts. Once he has their bank numbers, he often helps himself to additional payments, according to court documents. He then subcontracts the hauling to independent truckers and tow companies. Some of the vehicles do get delivered, but Sclafani regularly stiffs the haulers as well, according to court documents, and they often refuse to release the vehicles to Sclafani's customers until they get paid.

That's where it gets sticky for the customers. According to court documents, Sclafani threatens them with lawsuits, refuses to issue refunds, and passes the responsibility off to the haulers.

They're the ones who wind up fighting to the death with customers, while Sclafani, who has already gotten his money, just stands on the sidelines.

It is practically a fight to the death, since most of the frustrated customers trying to catch up with him are elderly. The majority of complaints against him are from snowbirds who want their cars transported from New York to Florida. In affidavit after affidavit attached to Cuomo's new move to shut down Sclafani for good, customers talk about their high blood pressure and heart conditions—and the grief caused by Sclafani that's just making those problems worse.

Many truckers suffer similar agita: "Greg has a lot of jobs, and he passes them on to people like me who have a license" to haul vehicles, a trucking dispatcher tells the Voice. He recently moved a dozen cars for Sclafani in April, he says, but has been paid for only eight of them. He won't do it again, says the trucker, and he won't be identified by name because he still hopes that Sclafani will pay him. In the meantime, the dispatcher has paid his drivers out of his own pocket—he could lose his license if he didn't pay them.

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1 comments
Carmover
Carmover

I know this story is 3 years old but I HAD to comment as the Sclafani's are still conning people out of money, they just moved their operations base somewhere else. As someone who has been on the actual trucking end of the auto transport industry for 20+ years and dealt with Greg & Marguite for years, I know how they work. As consumers we all want to price shop and look for the best deal. When it comes to shipping your car though, a broker doesn't have as much of a vested interest in transporting your car. The goal of many brokers is to get your deposit (also called a "booking fee") because once you see the fine print, most will see that money is not refundable and dates are not guaranteed.


Brokers can offer very cheap prices for the following reasons:

They do not have to pay: truck payments, fuel, heavy road use taxes, maintenance, Quarterly fuel taxes, KYU, drivers, DOT, overweight citations, and on and on.


How does a Broker work?:

Many can work right out of their living room and just pay for an 800 # and a Bond in case they don't pay the trucking company. You might make the mistake of filling out a form online as it looks like a quote request form for a trucking company. Instead, you all of a sudden are bombarded by between 10 & 25 hard core sales people all begging for your business and they will not leave you alone. They will offer a very low price to entice you. IF you book with the low priced broker, he/she may ask for a deposit. Either way, they list your car on an internet load board for less than quoted to you and either the car ends up sitting and the broker won't return your calls, or they call you and tell you they need to charge you more because no one wants to move the car or worse yet, they contract your car to a carrier for a larger price and you are in shock when the truck arrives and they don't want to give you the car unless you pay $200 more than your agreement. The sad part is that the truck driver is stuck in the middle. You can yell & scream & toss your contract in his/her face but if you don't pay what he says you owe, the driver eats it. He either owns his truck and has lost revenue or if it is a company driver, his dispatcher will deduct it from his pay and it isn't their fault you were lied to.


CONSUMERS: Arm Yourself With Information!!!  Research any company before you give them any personal or payment information. Do not just trust transport reviews website as many brokers are listed as carriers, they pay to be a "supporter" of the website to get preferential treatment and if you pay attention, some even compensate "clients" for their reviews!  Start with a review site to narrow down your choices, then use a search engine and look up the name of the company along with the word "complaints" and see what comes up. Many companies use similar names so if you have the city of location, use that in your search.


If I didn't "ramble on" so much, I could write a book of broker nightmare stories and how to book a transport with little stress. Automobiles can be quite an investment these days. Is transporting really where you want to bargain shop?


 
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