Heirlooms on the way to Plymouth vanish, along with shipper

  • Article by: JANE FRIEDMANN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2013 - 1:10 PM

Mark Reed spent more than $2,000 to send heirlooms from Florida to his home in Plymouth. The items and the UPS Store disappeared.

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Mark Reed was photographed on 2/15/13 with four of the Italian lithographs that were recovered. When Mark Reed decided to move from West Palm Beach to Plymouth in 2010, he chose to use a UPS Store to pack and ship family heirlooms inherited from his parents. But most of the goods never made it to his doorstep. A United Parcel Service (UPS) representative later told him the store owner had closed up shop shortly after Reed dropped off an oil painting of his great grandmother, an 18th-century French gaming table, a Greek statuette in bronze and a number of other irreplaceables. In the eyes of UPS, the UPS Store franchise owner is technically the customer responsible for filing any claims, but the owner failed to do so in this case. Reed has spent two years trying to get some compensation for the AWOL belongings.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Mark Reed has given up on ever seeing his heirlooms again. More than two years ago, Reed paid a UPS Store $2,105 to ship artwork and antique furniture from West Palm Beach, Fla., to his home in Plymouth.

He was told it would take a week. But only two of his 10 packages ever arrived. The UPS Store where Reed had taken his heirlooms abruptly closed, and its owner and manager, Rose and Andy Vernot, could not be reached. For more than a year, Reed's efforts to get help from the store, the UPS Store corporate and United Parcel Service itself went nowhere, Reed said.

"It has been extremely distressing for me and my family that UPS hasn't been able to provide us with a more definitive answer after all this time," he wrote to the CEO of United Parcel Service, the UPS Store, Inc.'s parent company, in December 2011. "The items in question represented virtually everything I received from my parents' estate. They had distinct sentimental value."

But UPS did reach a conclusion in Reed's case, according to the UPS Store corporate spokesman, Brandon Olson. Reed was notified in early 2012 that his request for compensation had been turned down, Olson said. Reed said he never received that decision.

After Whistleblower alerted the UPS Store Inc. this week to Reed's experience, the company decided to take another look at the situation.

Olson said unanswered customer complaints about the franchise on Haverhill Road in West Palm Beach resulted in the corporation taking the rare step of summarily terminating its agreement with its franchise owner, Rose Vernot, in February 2011. Olson said it's the only instance of such an action that he can recall in the past three years among more than 4,300 UPS Stores nationwide.

Olson pointed the finger at the Vernots for leaving customers in the lurch. "We feel so bad for the customers, including Mr. Reed, that had to go through this with these two," Olson said.

Heirlooms worth $12K

It was October 2010 when Reed took the heirlooms from a storage unit and brought them to the UPS Store. He handed store manager Andy Vernot an oil painting of his great-grandmother, an 18th-century French gaming table and a Greek statuette in bronze, among other objects. They were appraised at $12,000.

After several weeks went by with no deliveries, Reed tried to contact Andy Vernot, who had failed to provide Reed with a promised tracking number.

Vernot responded by e-mail telling Reed the shipments had been delayed because he had traveled to Haiti to help with relief efforts following the earthquake and a tracking number would be forthcoming.

That's the last he heard from Vernot, Reed said, despite repeated attempts to contact him by e-mail and phone. Whistleblower could not reach the Vernots, either.

Reed was not the only one trying to track them down. The UPS Store's corporate office was working to resolve a number of complaints it had received against the Vernots from customers who had not received packages or hadn't been able to retrieve mail delivered to the store, Olson said. "Their phone line was disconnected and mail was being returned marked 'return to sender,'" Olson said. He said the company eventually contacted police.

In early 2011, Reed sent a letter to UPS corporate headquarters saying that only two of 10 packages had arrived. An employee of the UPS Store told Reed the company was investigating.

Four months later, after hearing nothing further, Reed sent another letter to headquarters. "I thought the least they can do is refund the cost of shipping," Reed said.

But instead of helping Reed file a claim with UPS, an employee of the UPS Store told him to first call his credit card company and dispute Vernot's $2,105 charge.

The lack of tracking information made it difficult for UPS to figure out what happened to Reed's packages, Olson said. Because of that, UPS was unable to verify that the missing items were actually submitted by the Vernots for shipment, which would have made Reed eligible for some compensation for the value of the packages' contents.

Still, "after he's exhausted [other] avenues, then we could look at other possibilities," Olson said.

The card company told Reed it was too late to dispute the charge.

As 2011 came to a close, Reed sent another letter, this time to UPS Chairman and CEO Scott Davis, which resulted in a rejection of Reed's request.

But on Friday, the UPS Store corporate office decided to refund Reed's $2,105. "After revisiting the incident this week and discovering some more details regarding the actions of the owner and the other customer complaints that came to light, we felt it was necessarily to make Mark whole for his packing and shipping costs," Olson said.

"By far this is very uncharacteristic of our franchisees. We have some really terrific franchisees out there. They live by the customer service they provide," Olson said.

While the financial wherewithal to open a store is paramount, the company evaluates franchise applicants by whether they have a background in customer service, business or finance, and have computer and English-language skills.

"But as with any business, things sometimes slip through the cracks," Olson said.

Reed, 62, is relieved to have the situation resolved.

"I've always thought really highly of UPS and I guess I still do," he said. "But this has not been a very good experience."

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