HENDERSON CO. (KYTX) – A family's nightmare finally came to an end on June 25th when John Junior Smith, formerly of Tyler, was sentenced to 8 years in prison for his role in defrauding a family who had hired him to move them.
In August of 2013, a family chartered a moving company to aid in their move to Houston. When the company arrived at the family's home they realized that they were going to need additional help in getting the family moved. John and his wife Lawanda Smith were hired. A majority of the family's belongings were loaded up by Smith in one of Smith's vehicles. While en route to Houston, Smith called the family and claimed to have had vehicle trouble in Malakoff.
Smith and over $44,000 worth of the family's belongings never made it to their destination. The victim contacted Smith about the situation, and Smith claimed that he wanted more money including money to cover repairs to his vehicle. Essentially holding the family's belongings ransom, the victims agreed to help pay for the repairs, but Smith stop returning phone calls and never gave the belongings back.
After many back and forth conversations between the family and Smith, a citizen in Tyler found some of the victim's belongings along with personal identifying information next to a dumpster behind a CVS in Tyler and contacted the family. Filing cabinets and irreplaceable personal documents were scattered throughout the dumpster and on the ground. The victims took their search to Facebook in hopes of finding information about the thieves.
After gaining information from social media and several people, the family called Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee. McKee conducted a preliminary investigation and contacted the Sheriff's Office who assigned Investigator Brad Gray to the case. Gray was able to track down and contact Smith who ultimately led him to a storage locker which held some of the victim's belongings.
Smith claimed that he didn't know where the majority of the victim's items were. Smith's wife had rented the locker shortly after the items were stolen. Both of the Smiths were arrested for Theft of Property Greater than $20,000.
After pleading guilty to the court, Smith was sentenced to 8 years confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Although the family thought they were hiring a reputable moving company they were duped according to McKee. "This is the first time I have dealt with this kind of scam in our County, but it doesn't surprise me." Said McKee. McKee said according to his research, this kind of scam happens all over the State and Country.
McKee recommends visiting the websites ProtectYourMove.gov and fmcsa.dot.gov before hiring a mover. These sites are run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association which is a separate administration inside of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The sites provide a wealth of information for family's looking to hire a reputable mover.
Assistant District Attorney Justin Weiner prosecuted the case on behalf of Scott McKee's District Attorney's Office. Smith was sentenced in the 173rd Judicial District Court with Judge Dan Moore presiding.