After backlash from military community, auction of servicemembers' unclaimed possessions postponed

by Amir Vera
The Virginian-Pilot

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A misunderstanding about an auction of servicemembers’ unclaimed possessions struck a nerve in the military community this week.

After the outcry, Gene Daniels Auctions of Chesapeake, Va., on Thursday postponed the sale, which was planned for Saturday.

The tumult began when photos of crates in possession of Bay Area Movers Inc. were posted on an auction website. One of the photos – shared on social media among military-spouse Facebook groups – showed a crate with markings that said it was supposed to leave Virginia in April and arrive in Germany by June. It caused some to believe that Saturday’s auction included items that were still owned by servicemembers.

“People were just kind of freaking out,” said Amanda Rimmer of Norfolk, whose husband is in the Navy. She saw the reaction from fellow spouses on private Navy-spouse Facebook groups.

Auctioneer Gene Daniels, however, said the crate in the screenshot was not being auctioned. He said he went to the storage unit in Portsmouth about three weeks ago to take pictures of crates so potential buyers would know how large the crates were. He said he took photos of any boxes because “all the boxes look alike.”

“When I took the pictures, I must’ve taken one that wasn’t in the auction,” Daniels said, adding that the box in the screenshot has already been delivered to its owner. “That was my fault.”

Jean McRae, owner of Bay Area Movers in Portsmouth, said about 105 wooden crates were to be auctioned off because warehouses start to get full, especially heading into the summer. McRae said the crates were those that either came from or had been scheduled to go overseas. Some of the crates have been in the 40,000-square-foot warehouse since the 1990s and early 2000s, she said.

When it comes to unclaimed items, McRae said, the government notifies owners via letter that their storage item wasn’t being paid for by the government any longer.

“After that the owners are responsible for the payments,” she said.

When the moving company decided to auction these items, McRae said, they were required to send three certified letters to the last known address of the owner. Most of the owners of the crates to be auctioned had left the military, she said.

“They’re difficult to find. We even found an obituary for one,” she said.

Rimmer said the reason the auction – and screenshot – hit a sore spot is because of the theft, damage or loss of possessions that sometimes occurs during moves.

“There’s some things you can’t get back in life,” she said. “It’s not your physical health or your life, but there’s things that are irreplaceable.”

Rimmer said Thursday that the response to the auction was “a little bit rough. … The hatred was a little bit out of control, quite frankly.”

Daniels and McRae, who have each been in business since the 1980s, were inundated with complaints. Daniels said he got 1,200 to 1,500 emails. McRae said she mainly got phone calls.

McDaniels said he and Bay Area Movers did everything legally.

“I would never take military goods and sell them. I have military people in my family,” McRae said, adding it was her company’s first time participating in an auction.

Postponing the auction, Daniels said, cost his business about $1,400 in advertising and the potential income from the auction.

McRae said the auction will happen at a later date. The crates will sit right there” at the Portsmouth warehouse until then.

©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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