Jul. 13—The state is suing a Windham-based moving company, saying the firm illegally barred customers from posting negative reviews online.
The suit, filed in federal court in Portland by the Maine Attorney General's Office, said that some of Liberty Bell Moving and Storage's contracts say customers aren't allowed to post negative reviews and would have to pay a penalty if they do. That, the suit said, is contrary to both federal and state laws.
The suit names Liberty Bell Moving and its owner, Kevin V. Finkenaur, who previously gained some attention on social media for posts claiming that he was part of the crowd of supporters of former President Donald Trump who marched to the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. The posts defended the rioters who entered the Capitol, assaulted officers and delayed the counting of electoral votes that resulted in Trump's defeat in his effort to win a second term. It's not clear if Finkenaur, who made the claim in several Facebook forums last year, was really at the Capitol on that date or what role he played in the day's events.
An employee of the moving company said Wednesday that Finkenaur is currently on vacation, but he said he would pass a message to him seeking comment on the suit. Finkenaur had not replied by Wednesday evening.
A spokesman for the attorney general said the office does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit said that most contracts with Liberty Bell Moving include a prohibition against customers posting "ANY NEGATIVE REVIEWS against Liberty Bell Moving and Storage whatsoever" and said bad reviews will result in "a $1,000 defamation management fee" if not removed within three days. The contract says that stipulation doesn't apply to moves where a pre-move walk-through was conducted and a date guarantee surcharge was added.
The suit also points out that Liberty Bell Moving's website says "we encourage our customers to leave honest reviews of their experience with us." The ratings posted on the site are mostly positive, although there are a handful of negative reviews.
Liberty Bell's contract, the suit said, says the company will seek $2,500 for each day bad reviews are left up, along with lawyer's fees of "upwards of $9,500."
According to the suit, customers who posted negative reviews got "threatening emails" from an "" email address and the sender is sometimes identified as "attorney, Liberty Bell Moving & Storage," "Heinrich," or "Reinhard."
However, the suit said, there's no indication that Liberty Bell Moving has an in-house attorney and the attorney general's office said there's no record of an attorney with either a first or last name of "Heinrich" or "Reinhard" being licensed to practice law in Maine.
The suit also said the company has "recently leveraged threats against Liberty Bell's customers to induce the customers to remove negative reviews, despite the customers' protestations that the reviews were honest and legitimate assessments of their experience with Liberty Bell."
It also said the company and Finkenaur "have recently threatened customers who have published negative reviews with fees, penalties and costs that are unenforceable or legally and/or factually baseless." It said those include "punitive damages," defamation "fees," court fees that exceed the amount that a court could assess and attorney's fees that are "substantially inflated," not yet incurred and/or not reasonable, based on the claims.
The suit seeks tens of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties, restitution for customers and legal fees for the attorney general's office.