By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
When civil rights activist Judith Lee Berg had an opportunity to work in Atlanta three years ago, she didn't think twice about renting out her Denver home and making a temporary move to Georgia. She didn't think twice, either, about hiring A&R Transfer, a moving company a friend had recommended.
Berg has since reconsidered.
"It was really sleazy," she says now. "I go down to Atlanta and I get a call from the movers in Tennessee, saying they had to have cash on arrival. Then the moving van arrives with a fourth of what was supposed to be shipped. The boxes were broken, and the people who brought my stuff were absolutely smashed. They were so drunk; they reeked of beer."
Among the missing items, Berg says, were irreplaceable personal papers and legal files that belonged to her former husband, slain radio talk-show personality Alan Berg. She tried to discuss the matter with A&R's owner, Yuri Kagan, at his east Denver office, only to be ordered off the premises by an unidentified employee. Her attorney filed a lawsuit against Kagan, but that, too, failed to produce any compensation. Ultimately, Berg ended up joining the procession of creditors in federal bankruptcy court, in one of six bankruptcy actions Kagan has filed in the past eight years.
"Needless to say, nothing was ever recovered," Berg says. "We just decided it was a lost cause."
Kagan says that his company has moved the belongings of thousands of people successfully and that he has the testimonials to prove it. Court documents filed by his less-satisfied customers, though, portray A&R Transfer as the Mover From Hell. The company, which claims minimal assets, generally subcontracts its jobs to independent operators using U-Haul trucks or other leased equipment. Creditors charge that their movers were rude, late, or obviously intoxicated; that valuable goods, including stereos, computers and other electronics, disappeared in transit; and that other goods arrived severely damaged.
"The movers did not arrive until 9:30 p.m. and did not complete the move until 2:45 a.m.," an unhappy Julio Gonzalez wrote, in a letter of complaint to Kagan concerning his move from California to Florida last year. "[They] were not very careful...often dropping furniture against the walls and doors."
When the goods arrived in Florida two weeks later, Gonzalez added, "nearly all items that were not packed in boxes were scratched or damaged...The two persons who moved our items kept hinting at a tip and/or charges for this or that amounting approximately to an additional $100."
Over the years, dozens of creditors have sued Kagan over lost or damaged goods. In some cases they've sought triple damages under the Consumer Protection Act, claiming that A&R failed to carry required insurance despite Yellow Pages ads boasting that the company is "fully insured." Several have obtained hefty judgments--only to see their claim wiped out or put on hold indefinitely by Kagan's frequent dalliances with bankruptcy.
"He's got the system figured out," declares attorney John Cowan. "I think he found out when he did his first bankruptcy that he could get away with murder, basically."
Cowan has been chasing Kagan on behalf of the owner of a warehouse Kagan leased four years ago. After falling behind on the rent, Kagan was evicted, and Cowan obtained a $10,000 judgment against the mover last year. But Kagan filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection last month, and Cowan doesn't expect to see a dime.
"I didn't file an objection [to the bankruptcy] because I didn't want my client to spend any more money," Cowan says. "There's no hope of getting anything from this guy. We were delighted to get him out of the building."
Other creditors aren't ready to give up, noting that all but one of Kagan's previous efforts at bankruptcy have met with failure. A 1989 foray into Chapter 13, which allows wage earners to put together a plan to repay a percentage of their debts, was dismissed after Kagan failed to make payments the plan called for. A 1991 Chapter 7 (straight bankruptcy) was more successful, wiping out nearly $100,000 in unsecured debt, including eleven judgments or pending lawsuits against him. Chapter 7 protection can be sought only once every seven years, but that didn't stop Kagan from trying another Chapter 13 in 1994 (dismissed at his request), followed by a Chapter 11 reorganization (also dismissed at his request), another Chapter 13 (dismissed last February by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sidney Brooks, who noted "numerous procedural problems" with the application), and finally, the latest filing.
"His history of staying in [bankruptcy] isn't very long," notes attorney Patrick McBride, who's been dueling with Kagan's attorneys over a 1995 default judgment for more than $20,000, which McBride obtained for the insurer of a woman who'd had her belongings mauled by A&R in a move from Seattle to Dallas. "We've decided to wait and see if he successfully completes this one. We doubt that he will, and if it's dismissed, we'll go back and pursue the judgment."
But even though Kagan has a spotty record in officially discharging his debts, many creditors appear to have been discouraged by the frequent filings, leading to claims that he is abusing the bankruptcy process. "He's been successful at dropping creditors out--people who just let their debt go away--because it becomes such an expensive process," says McBride.