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Fort Drum Storage company under scrutiny of AGs office

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FORT DRUM — The state attorney general’s office has an ongoing investigation into a vehicle storage company that caters to Fort Drum soldiers who are deployed.

Elizabeth J. DeBold, a spokeswoman in the attorney general’s New York office, confirmed Wednesday that the office is looking into the business activities of Fort Drum Storage LLP, 26390 Route 11, Evans Mills. In recent months, the company has been doing business as Indoor Vehicle Storage in a storefront office in a small strip plaza.

The attorney general’s office is asking soldiers with complaints to contact the regional office, Ms. DeBold said. On Tuesday, the office had Fort Drum’s Criminal Investigation Division send out a Criminal Alert Notice to soldiers, their families and civilian employees who have vehicles stored with Fort Drum Storage.

The AG’s office also has requested the assistance of the Army Criminal Investigation Division to ensure soldiers and their dependents know how to file complaints about the company.

Fort Drum’s CID office also wants to make sure that deployed soldiers are aware of the alert, since the majority of the business’s customers are soldiers and have vehicles stored in rented warehouses in Sandy Creek and Oswego. About 5,000 Fort Drum soldiers are now deployed, after about 110 members of the 543rd Military Police Company, 91st MP Battalion of the 10th Sustainment Brigade, returned home on Monday.

Sources said that several returning members of the military police company went to retrieve their vehicles earlier this week only to find that the Route 11 office was dark.

But Ms. DeBold emphasized that the vehicles are safe and the AG’s office is in the process of inventorying them, matching them up with owners and then “making sure they get back to their rightful owners.”

Soldiers should not have to fret over their vehicles’ safety while they are fighting a war in Afghanistan or just getting back, she said.

Ms. DeBold, however, would not comment about the probe and whether it was a criminal investigation.

“We’re looking at all aspects of this case,” she said. “Obviously, it’s multifaceted. There’s a lot here to look at and we are aware of it all.”

She also would not say how many complaints have been filed, although many of them had to do with soldiers not getting their vehicles back in a timely manner or having been inconvenienced in getting them out of storage.

Several months ago, Fort Drum Storage LLP began operating under Indoor Vehicle Storage, even thought it never legally changed its name, sources said. Previously, it was known as Fort Drum Vehicle Storage, and was located in an office at the Hotis Motel at 23442 Route 37 in the town of Pamelia.

Fort Drum Storage is owned by JoAnn Sanchez-Norquist, who is believed to have moved to Las Vegas since the company made headlines for some financial missteps. The company’s CFO, Ruby “Charlene” Williams, followed her there, former employees said.

Although she has not been paid in weeks, Jealisa N. Stephenson, a secretary with the company who claims to be the last person working there, said she was forced to stop going into the office earlier this week because she ended up in the hospital. Until then, she did what she could for the Fort Drum soldiers.

“I felt bad for the soldiers,” she said. “I was trying to help them get back their cars.”

At least two former employees contacted the AG’s office after the company stopped paying them, Ms. Stephenson said.

As far he knows, the company’s former general manager, who did not want his name used, said that the two women were still getting paid on the first of the month for storing vehicles, even though they were not providing services promised to soldiers. About 180 vehicles remained in storage in early July, when he left the job disgusted because he had not received a paycheck for about five weeks.

He described Fort Drum Storage as a lucrative business that should have been successful.

Soldiers have been paying as much as $150 a month to store their vehicles, but it’s been many weeks since an employee drove down to start their engines, maintain their batteries and have their tires checked, the former general manager said. Those services were promised but stopped when he was forced to lay off all of his employees on the orders of the owner.

In his three months at the company, the former general manager said that he saw the owner once. Ms. Williams seemed to have been running the show. At the time, he questioned some of the ways the women were spending money and not putting it back into the company, he said.

“I don’t think anyone will ever know everything that was going on,” he said.

Formed in 2005 to serve deploying soldiers who need a place to store their vehicles, Fort Drum Storage has been better known in the past year for its financial problems. Ms. Sanchez-Norquist lost several properties she had owned after failing to pay taxes, including a West Main Street warehouse where dozens of vehicles had been stored.

In 2012, the Watertown Local Development Corp. filed a lawsuit against the company in an attempt to collect nearly $77,000 overdue on a loan made to the Watertown business three years earlier.

The post’s announcement can be found at http://wdt.me/Xg32X9.

Complaints can be filed with the AG’s office at 315-785-2444, or via email to: Watertown.Regional@ag.ny.gov.

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