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Deployed soldiers find it difficult to retrieve stored vehicles

EVANS MILLS -- Spc. Sereana J. Brockington just wanted to pick up her 2010 Dodge Charger from storage after returning home from Afghanistan earlier this week, but she found it a little more difficult than that.

She was one of about 60 members of the 543rd Military Police Company, 91st MP Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade who found out that Fort Drum Storage LLP -- also known as Indoor Vehicle Storage at 26390 Route 11 -- was basically defunct and had not gotten their vehicles ready for them when they returned from a nine-month overseas deployment.

The soldiers had been promised that their vehicles were going to be stored in Watertown; instead, they were being stored in Sandy Creek and Oswego.

On Friday, Spc. Brockington was among about a dozen soldiers who climbed into a military-provided van to make the hourlong trip to Oswego, where her car was sitting in a warehouse for all these months, she said.

"It was pretty crappy they did that," she said of the storage business Friday night.

Worse yet, she said, her car was not properly maintained while she was overseas serving her country. The engine had not been started, nor the battery maintained nor the tires checked, she said. Without that simple maintenance -- which she paid for and was promised -- she now has to get new brakes and rotors, and who knows what else, she said.

"It was crazy," she said.

Soldiers have been paying $100 to $150 a month for the storage service. Unmarried soldiers are eligible to have that expense reimbursed by the military.

The state attorney general's office confirmed this week that it has an ongoing investigation into the vehicle storage company, which caters to Fort Drum soldiers who are deployed. The AG's office is asking soldiers with complaints to contact the regional office in Watertown for help retrieving their vehicles.

On Tuesday, the office had Fort Drum's Criminal Investigation Division send out a Criminal Alert Notice to soldiers, their families and civilian employees who have vehicles stored with Fort Drum Storage. The AG's office also may conduct a criminal investigation, a spokeswoman said this week.

The issue came to a head Wednesday morning when a sergeant attempted to retrieve his two vehicles from the company, but they were nowhere to be found. Neither was anyone from the company, his friends said Friday. He finally arranged to get the vehicles on Friday morning from the one remaining employee, a secretary, said the sergeant, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said he brought 11 other soldiers to the company's Route 11 storefront office who had the same problem.

Spc. Tony Freeman, who is married to Spc. Brockington, said he wondered how the Fort Drum leadership allowed the company's representatives to be on post and meet directly with soldiers.

"We met with them and they took our vehicles," Spc. Freeman said.

His friend Sgt. Ricky Max spent most of Friday driving the van to Oswego County to retrieve vehicles, Sgt. Max said late in the day. It angers him that Fort Drum Storage took advantage of soldiers who were fighting in Afghanistan, only to come home and find such a mess, he said.

"These young guys who were on their first tours just wanted to get back and party," he said.

The company's owner, JoAnn Sanchez-Norquist, is believed to have moved to Las Vegas since the company made headlines for financial missteps during the past year. The company's CFO, Ruby "Charlene" Williams, followed her there, former employees said.

"They were pretty slick," Sgt. Max said. "They should be hung."

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