Miami-Dade County

South Florida customers: Shipping company failed to deliver

A multimillion-dollar shipping company with offices in Miami and around the country stopped delivering people’s packages last year but continued taking their money, according to hundreds of angry customers who are now crying fraud.

The company, Medrano Express, also failed to pay a freight forwarder for a large shipment to Guatemala, according to a recent lawsuit.

Medrano Express, which has existed for 18 years, has since shuttered its location in Little Havana, leaving it packed with undelivered boxes and vans seemingly abandoned in the parking lot. Its managers and employees nationwide have all but disappeared, failing to respond to two Florida lawsuits and leaving phone calls unanswered at its corporate office in New York and most of its locations in 10 states.

Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 people from around the country, most of them Central American immigrants, have banded together on Facebook to decry the loss of their money and property and discuss taking action against Medrano.

Some disgruntled customers have already acted.

Rolando Castillo, 71, of Hialeah, filed a lawsuit against Medrano last month, charging that the company had failed to deliver $1,000 worth of goods to his home in Guatemala. The judge ruled in his favor after Medrano failed to appear in court.

“This company has not responded to me since December,” Castillo said. “Neither the owner nor any representative appeared in court.”

Castillo and other alleged victims said Medrano was a dependable company until last year. Castillo had shipped packages with them at least four times in the past.

Medrano Express was first registered in Hempstead, N.Y. in 1995. While New York State does not publicly list the names of corporate officers, in Florida the company is registered to Jorge A. Medrano, a resident of Hempstead.

Jorge Medrano did not respond to several phone calls placed to his publicly listed number.

According to the company’s website, the president and founder of Medrano Express is a “humble and hardworking man” from El Salvador who started the business in 1992, personally driving packages to Central America.

Some 16 years later, Medrano had an operating revenue of $8.6 million, according to the business database Orbis.

The company had between 15 and 30 locations around the country, as well as offices in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition to shipping packages by land, sea and air, it offers services for international phone calls, car insurance, money transfers and “free legal consultations” for everything from real estate to medical malpractice.

Medrano’s troubles seem to have started around last September. Between that month and February of this year, Medrano hired King Ocean Services, a Florida maritime cargo transporter, to deliver goods to Guatemala. According to a lawsuit filed by King Ocean in April, Medrano never paid for this work.

As in Castillo’s case, Medrano did not respond to the lawsuit, and a judge ordered the company to pay King Ocean $54,080.

Shortly after Medrano allegedly began failing to pay the freight forwarder, its customers started to complain that their packages were going missing. Customers claiming they were defrauded say they sent packages to El Salvador, Nicaragua and other countries as early as October that have yet to materialize.

Castillo sent his package to Guatemala on Dec. 26. It had gifts for his family, mostly clothes and tools: sweaters, shoes, an electric sanding machine, wire cutters.

Castillo traveled to Guatemala in March intending to pick up the shipment and distribute the gifts, but found the box hadn’t arrived.

“It was embarrassing. It made me look bad in front of my family,” he said.

Castillo went to Medrano’s office in Guatemala City and found it was closed. At a smaller office outside the capital, he was told the box was stuck in customs in Honduras.

Several of Medrano’s customers in Miami claim to have received similar explanations for their missing shipments. On the Internet, complaints bubbled up in places as close as Georgia and as far as Seattle.

In March, Medrano Express moved its Miami office about three blocks to its current location on West Flagler Street. Erica Arteaga, the general manager of the company that owns the building where the office is located, said Medrano had trouble making rent payments from the beginning.

“They would pay in cash, and they would pay late,” she said. “I had to tell them, ‘Look, I’m embarrassed that I have to remind you every month.’ ”

More and more customers started showing up at Medrano’s office and complaining. The claims followed the same pattern: boxes weren’t delivered, Medrano employees claimed they were stuck in customs at various points in Central America, and the company’s headquarters and national toll-free number did not answer phone calls.

Meanwhile, customers and their shipments are left in the lurch.

Otto Rene Pozuelos, 55, said he lost about $3,000 worth of goods he sent to Guatemala, including five glucose measuring devices for a diabetic family member.

Jose Manuel Matute, 58, claims he lost about $700 in a shipment to Nicaragua. He said he was aggressively kicked out of Medrano’s office in May after complaining about his lost package.

“What’s happening there is a gigantic fraud,” Matute said.

In late June, the office on West Flagler Street closed, according to Arteaga. She is currently involved in eviction proceedings with the city of Miami to vacate the space, which she says is still packed floor to ceiling with boxes.

Arteaga is also in contact with the Federal Maritime Commission, which regulates companies that ship goods international by sea. Jennifer Gartlan, the deputy director of the agency’s consumer complaints section, said she could not confirm whether the agency was investigating Medrano but said they “are aware” of the situation.

Gartlan said the commission can work with customers to locate and recover their lost goods, and can also pursue civil action and other enforcement measures against companies that violate its rules.

Medrano’s representatives remain elusive, Arteaga said, although on Thursday night someone left another one of the company’s trucks in the office’s parking lot.

“We looked at our cameras and saw that someone dropped off a truck, but we couldn’t see who it was,” she said.

“I’m just hoping we can sort this out soon so that these people can get their belongings.”