Justice Department attorneys filed a lawsuit today against a Massachusetts moving and storage company allegedly the company illegally auctioned off the belongings of an Air Force technical sergeant while he was deployed — including military gear and mementos that belonged to a cousin who was killed in action, his grandfather’s military service medals, and a dresser that was handmade by his great-grandfather.
Officials allege that PRTaylor Enterprises, LLC, of Billerica, Massachusetts, violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by allegedly selling off the items without first getting a court order, which is required under the SCRA. It’s the responsibility of the company to check the DoD database to find out whether an individual is in the military, and if that’s the case, to get a court order.
Tech Sgt. Charlie Cornacchio hired the company, which is also known as Father & Son Moving & Storage, to move his property from his home on Hanscom Air Force Base into two storage vaults at the company’s storage facility, for storage while he was deployed to Qatar, according to the lawsuit filed in Massachusetts federal court.
On Feb. 5, 2019, Cornacchio authorized the company to charge his credit card $2,190.64, which included $300 for storage. The company acknowledged in writing that he had paid the money, according to the lawsuit.
The contracts he signed for the two storage vaults gave the company a storage lien on his property in exchange for his agreement to pay for the moving and storage for the six months he was deployed to Qatar. The company moved his belongings on Feb. 5, 2019, from his home at Hanscom AFB. Cornacchio was present and wearing his Air Force uniform while they were packing and loading, according to the lawsuit.
Five months later, on July 8, 2019, the company auctioned off the entire contents of those two storage vaults.
Officials at PRTaylor Enterprises did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Justice Department is seeking damages for Cornacchio, including the value of the items that were auctioned off. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston said the value of the items has not yet been determined.
The lawsuit resulted from a referral to the Justice Department by the Air Force.
“This service member was called overseas to serve our country and returned home to find his personal possessions, family heirlooms and military awards auctioned off to the highest bidders,” said Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, in a statement. “That is unacceptable.”
On Aug. 5, 2019, nearly a month after the auction and while he was still in Qatar, Cornacchio received a notice for the first time that his account was allegedly in arrears. That notice was forwarded to him because it was addressed to his previous address at Hanscom AFB.
The SCRA “outlawed the kind of conduct alleged here, and for good reason,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in the statement. “The Department of Justice is filing this lawsuit today to ensure that this service member receives just compensation and to prevent this from happening to another member of our military.”
Service members and family members who believe their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Locations of legal assistance offices of all the service branches can be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.