State sues Alaska Motor Home after customers say they were swindled and harassed

RVs
Recreational vehicles parked outside the office of Alaska Motor Home on June 14, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

An Anchorage renter of recreational vehicles has again been sued by the state over deceptive business practices – three years after the firm was penalized for similar issues.

Alaska Motor Home, along with registered owners Peter and Cole Harkovitch, are named in a state complaint filed Thursday. The company, which faced state action in 2019, has abruptly closed its doors this week.

“The lawsuit alleges that the defendants engaged in deceptive practices such as charging $2,500 damage deposits before consumers had picked up their RV, charging consumers taxes they did not owe, and forging a consumer’s signature on receipts to win a credit card chargeback dispute,” officials said in a statement from the Alaska Department of Law. 

Assistant Attorney General John Haley, who filed the suit, said Friday that Cole Harkovitch reportedly transferred his shares in Alaska Motor Home to Peter about two weeks ago. He said the state believes hundreds of customers have been affected by the company’s actions, which he called “unprecedented.”

“I think this is fairly unique, because it’s happening at the beginning of the tourist season,” he said.

The company, which has allegedly taken thousands of dollars for summer RV rentals and has 40 RVs on hand, told the state this week that it planned to shut down Friday, without providing refunds to customers.

Attorney General Treg Taylor said the company’s customers  have been left in a “terrible situation.”

“Alaskan trips people have dreamed about for years are getting thrown into chaos,” Taylor said in the statement. 

Multiple email and phone messages to Alaska Motor Home seeking comment were not returned Friday. The company’s website was offline, and its Facebook page has not had any new posts this year.

a door
The locked door of Alaska Motor Home, which state officials say abruptly closed down operations after being sued over deceptive business practices. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

On Friday morning, numerous RVs were parked outside Alaska Motor Home’s office in an industrial park off C Street near Raspberry Road. Nobody was present outside, and the office door was locked.

In the state’s 29-page complaint, prosecutors said that Peter Harkovitch “has a history of using Alaska Motor Home’s assets as his personal assets,” directly using company funds for his own expenses. They also noted that he is jailed in Florida on criminal charges including aggravated battery, battery on a law enforcement officer and threatening a public servant linked to a domestic-violence case.

“The expenses associated with this litigation provide extra motivation for Alaska Motor Home’s owners to siphon money from the company, rather than to refund consumers or pay the company’s other debts,” prosecutors said.

In 2019, a Department of Law statement said Alaska Motor Home had imposed steep terms on renters including “a $300/hour charge for late returns, a $1,000 fine for putting fish in the RV refrigerator, and a $1,000 fine for leaving an RV excessively dirty.” None of them were disclosed until renters had already paid a deposit.

Under an injunction placed against Alaska Motor Home in that case, it is barred from arbitrarily canceling customers’ reservations. It must also keep exact records of any costs charged as a tax, as well as provide customers charged for damaging an RV a photograph of the damage and a history of repairs along with their itemized costs.

According to Thursday’s complaint, a Utah paralegal who rented a 26-foot RV in August 2023 was instead given a 32-foot RV against her wishes.

“When (the customer) told the Alaska Motor Home agent that she had booked a (26-foot) RV, and that a (32-foot) RV was too long, the Alaska Motor Home agent threatened to cancel her reservation,” prosecutors wrote. “The contract (she) had signed did not provide that Alaska Motor Home could substitute a different RV from the one listed on the contract.”

After the customer’s husband accidentally pumped gasoline into the RV’s water tank, prosecutors said, she informed the company and provided her Visa card. Staff did not immediately bill the card, but she soon saw $7,500 in unauthorized charges on it. After she froze the card and the American Express with which she had reserved the RV, she saw Harkovitch attempt to charge $7,240 on the American Express.

Soon afterward, the woman received a statement from Alaska Motor Home claiming she had paid $11,750 – which also noted the $7,500 she had already paid and claimed she owed an additional $4,240.

an invoice
Detail from an invoice sent to an Alaska Motor Home customer in 2023, according to state charging documents. (From State of Alaska)

“These two statements are contradictory,” prosecutors wrote. “In addition, $7,500 plus $4,240 does not equal $11,750.”

The woman said she thought the RV was insured against damage, based on statements in Alaska Motor Home’s advertising.

“The contract (she) signed stated, ‘Insurance coverage includes collision, comprehensive, and liability,'” prosecutors wrote. “This contract language is in all of Alaska Motor Home’s RV rental contracts. However, this language is deceptive because Alaska Motor Home’s RV rentals do not come with insurance that insures the renter or driver.”

A dispute over the RV’s repair bills escalated until Harkovitch called the woman’s law firm in Utah, and she emailed him asking him not to call her at her office.

“Peter Harkovitch responded to the email stating, ‘Sorry, as a lawyer, your boss needs to be aware of the slime that works for her. Have a great day,’” prosecutors wrote.

Harkovitch also allegedly wrote the woman’s employer, who also asked him not to contact her at work.

On Sept. 2, 2023, Harkovitch sent the woman an invoice for $20,455, listed as $4,240 for “Water System Damage” – plus $235 a day for loss of the RV’s future use.

an invoice
An invoice charging an Alaska Motor Home customer $235 per day for 69 days’ loss of an RV’s use, according to state charging documents. (From State of Alaska)

“The invoice charged for 69 days loss of use, a period running through Nov. 5, 2023,” prosecutors wrote. “However, (Nov. 5) was still more than two months away.”

The next month, the woman’s disputes of the initial $7,500 in charges were denied because Alaska Motor Home provided August documents bearing her signature through the online service Docusign. The state says those signatures were forged, after Docusign told investigators the woman had not signed any documents through the service that month.

Two other people also reported issues renting an RV from Alaska Motor Home during the 2023 season, according to the complaint. One couldn’t contact the company about a reservation, and the other had his reservation canceled but only received a partial refund of his costs.

The Anchorage Daily News reported in 2021 that a judge levied a $110,000 penalty against Alaska Motor Home over the 2019 allegations. As of Thursday, according to the state’s new complaint, Alaska Motor Home had paid about half of that penalty.

After the state relayed word of the outstanding penalties to Florida authorities, in an effort to collect the funds during that case, an attorney for Alaska Motor Home told state officials on Monday that the company would be closing down its operations Friday.  

Still, according to prosecutors, the company was still taking reservations by late Monday afternoon. An investigator was able to book an RV rental for August on Alaska Motor Home’s website, providing a credit card number for a $500 deposit.

“If Alaska Motor Home is closing operations, there is no legitimate reason for the company to accept reservations or take credit card information for an August 2024 rental,” prosecutors wrote.

Haley declined to say whether Thursday’s lawsuit is the only state action that will be taken against the company.

The state is seeking an injunction to stop Alaska Motor Home from continuing to engage in deceptive practices, as well as penalties for its violations of state law. Prosecutors also seek to have renters’ costs reimbursed, but Haley said Friday that they can’t guarantee they will recover funds from the company.

Haley said Alaska Motor Home has begun sending cancellation notices to customers, who he said will have to book new RVs and accommodations at likely higher costs or cancel trips entirely.

Haley also urged anyone owed money by Alaska Motor Home to fill out a consumer complaint form on the Department of Law website.

“All I can say is we’re going to do our best, and we can’t help people if we don’t know who they are,” he said.

Alaska Public Media’s Matthew Faubion contributed information to this story.

a portrait of a man outside

Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him atcklint@alaskapublic.org.Read more about Chrishere.

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