Luke Frechette, left, and Thomas Shelide, second from right, talk with Oregon State Police troopers Don Jeter, left, and Tim Burt after allegedly running afoul of the state’s laws for movers. ODOT's Norm Cooper, in red, set up a sting for unlicensed movers by posing as a potential customer. - Jim Craven

Sting nets unlicensed movers

Like many people looking for a mover, Norm Cooper checks the yellow pages and Craigslist, but he's not just looking for the lowest price.

Cooper is a compliance specialist with the Oregon Department of Transportation's Motor Carrier Transportation Division, so he carefully checks the department's list of licensed movers.

Then he calls anyone who has an ad posted, but isn't licensed.

On Thursday he and other ODOT compliance specialists and Oregon State Police troopers set up a sting in a rented house in southeast Medford to net unlicensed and uninsured moving operations.

Eleven movers with trucks and three more offering pack-and-load services, which also are regulated by the state, showed up to help Cooper move. Instead they found themselves snared in a lengthy inspection process that ended in hundreds of dollars in fines instead of the quick way to make some extra money they had hoped for.

"I have another job," said Errin Connors, an Ashland man who said he is an independent contractor in the film industry. "I'm just trying to make an extra buck."

He and his friend, Michael Allen, teamed up in the summer of 2007 to start a hauling business on the side.

Allen had a truck and Connors had a trailer. "And we thought we were being really resourceful," said Allen, who said he hadn't gone to his regular job Thursday because he expected make more money moving.

In the past they have made dump runs and taken donated items to Goodwill. Occasionally, they completed a household move, mostly for a clientele of older people and single women, Connors said.

Last fall, ODOT notified them that they couldn't advertise moving services if they weren't licensed and filed civil monetary complaints of $100 for each of three postings on Craigslist. Connors said the pair stopped reposting their Craigslist ad.

"We don't get that many jobs to make it worth it," Allen said, explaining why they hadn't taken out licenses and insurance to meet state requirements.

Another would-be mover caught in the sting, Luke Frechette, is an associate youth pastor at Ashland Christian Fellowship and was driving a truck registered to the church. He was surprised to find authorities — and television and newspaper reporters — behind the door.

He said he and a friend posted an ad on Craigslist a month or so ago "almost as a joke."

Over the past few years, Frechette said, he's done about a hundred moves, usually for free, but sometimes for lunch or a donation to the church. He said he had never agreed to a price in advance until Cooper called.

"Our main purpose is to protect the public in the handling of their personal goods," Cooper said of Thursday's sting, the latest in a string of operations in Portland, Eugene and Bend, with more planned elsewhere in the state. "Using an unlicensed mover could have the potential for loss or damage of your possessions or damage to the interior of your home."

The Medford sting resulted in 11 citations charging drivers with operating without ODOT certification and three citations linked to unlawful pack-and-load operations, officials said. Each of those citations carries a fine of $427.

Inspectors found five truck safety violations and took one vehicle out of service, officials said. Two drivers were cited for driving with suspended licenses and one was cited for driving a truck with a gross vehicle weight of more than 10,000 pounds without a required commercial operator's medical card.

Two citations were issued to drivers who didn't carry fire extinguishers as required and three other equipment violations were written up.

OSP Trooper Tim Burt noted that at least one company had started the required certification process and probably could get the fine dismissed or reduced if the paperwork was completed before a scheduled court date. Others argued in the street, sputtering that they were only trying to help.

"It's not a favor," Burt said. "They are advertising as a business."

Officials explained that people can help a friend or family member move in exchange for pizza or gas money, but as soon as they advertise the service — online, in a classified ad or in a phone directory — it's a different matter.

"This is a good education for the general public to find out about the resources available when you move and for people who might want to do it as a business," ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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