Jan 30, 2014 12:00 AM by Matthew Schwartz
TUCSON - A local moving and storage company is under fire. Sources tell the News 4 Tucson Investigators that the Arizona Attorney General's office is looking into complaints against the business.
Dr. Ronald Bernstein is a retired neurosurgeon. He is now a patient, battling brain cancer. The 66-year old Tucsonan, an orthodox Jew, plans to move to Israel to spend his remaining years. Bernstein hired 3 gorillas Moving and Storage to transport his belongings from his 6,000 sq. ft. foothills home to a hangar in Oro Valley, where his son would sell them.
3 gorillas started moving hundreds of boxes out of Bernstein's home on Jan. 13, 2013. Just four days later, an item came up for auction on eBay: a Yamaha Grand concert piano. This was Dr. Bernstein's piano. The listed seller: the operations manager at 3 gorillas.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators found the man who bought the piano. Music teacher Rob Francis paid 3 Gorillas $14,250 for the piano, plus $750 for delivery. Francis saw Dr. Bernstein's name in paperwork that came with the piano and contacted him. They became friends and Francis offered to sell the piano back, but Bernstein, told him to keep it for now. Both men say 3 gorillas took advantage of a sick, older customer.
Bernstein said, "I believe that the term is ‘vulnerable adult.' I'm terribly upset and saddened."
The News 4 Tucson Investigators met up with Troy Emerson, 3 Gorillas' owner.
We said to him, "You were offering to sell a piano that wasn't yours, it belonged to someone else." Emerson replied, "And now I've taken all the stuff and moved it back for him and he hasn't paid me a dime."
Emerson said his company had every right to auction off the piano due to non-payment. But the estimate signed by 3 gorillas indicates Bernstein paid a $2,000 deposit on the first day of the move. Emerson says the estimate was low; the actual cost was over $30,000. And Emerson brought up the subject of Bernstein's religion.
"Hey let's not get into this man," Emerson said, "but one thing I do I love the Jewish people. So even if I had to donate $30,000 to this guy and do it...hey, I love the Jewish people, I'll move on.
Nick LaFleur, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona, told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "In the last year, 3 Gorillas received the most complaints of any mover in Southern Arizona that's in our system."
LaFleur also says 3 gorillas generated the third most complaints last year of any business in Southern Arizona.
Karen Barbera says when 3 gorillas moved her family from Oro Valley to North Tustin Ca. in 2012; their original estimate was $15,000. The final bill: $38,000.
Barbera said, "But when I contested it they said, 'Listen, if you want to cause trouble, we'll take all of your furniture out on the sidewalk and sell it.'"
Barbera says 3 gorillas scratched the hardwood floor in her brand new home, damaged numerous items and lost others. Her insurer, State Farm, agreed, citing 22 lost items totaling almost $11,000.
Meanwhile, 3 gorillas kept Dr. Bernstein's stuff until ordered by a judge in December to deliver it to the hanger within five days. This was after Bernstein was ordered to post a $25,000 cash bond. Bernstein said a lot of items were damaged by 3 gorillas, and that hundreds of boxes containing millions of dollars worth of property, including sentimental religious items, are missing.
"It's incredible," Bernstein says.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators obtained an email sent from 3 gorillas' own attorney to Bernstein's, stating 3 gorillas auctioned off, "A number of small boxes containing some of Dr. Bernstein's property."
Among the 283 boxes Dr. Bernstein says 3 gorillas has delivered to him so far, some belong to other customers, he claims. And in one of his boxes, the Orthodox Jew found a Baptismal candle. It is obviously not his.
No, the candle belongs to...Karen Barbera's family.
We told 3 Gorillas owner Troy Emerson, "We found a Baptismal candle belonging to the Barbera family, with their name on it, in Dr. Bernstein's hangar. Emerson replied, "I don't...I know nothin' about that. "
And there's more: Dr Bernstein's 1982 Maserati was not delivered, despite the court order. It's still at 3 gorillas' facility. Emerson says Bernstein can pick it up himself. Also, we obtained a photo of the break room at 3 gorillas, which shows Bernstein's stereo, for the employees to enjoy.
Karen Barbera and Ron Bernstein are suing 3 gorillas, and the mover is counter-suing Bernstein for non-payment. Emerson says he's done nothing wrong.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators said to Emerson, "So you're saying two court rulings are wrong and these customers are wrong and the Better Business Bureau are all wrong." He said, "I'm not saying anything's wrong. Any judge that tells me what to do I'll do."
Dr. Bernstein says, "All I can do is hope and pray."
The Attorney General's office will neither confirm nor deny that it is investigating 3 Gorillas. Dr. Bernstein's lawsuit and 3 Gorillas counter-claim are scheduled to be heard in October.
Remember, if you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our tip line, (520) 955-4444.