KPRC 2 Undercover Investigation: Houstonians looking for work find heartache

HOUSTON – Job layoffs and furloughs from the start of the pandemic left thousands of Houstonians unemployed and looking for work.

KPRC 2 Investigates went undercover to expose one business luring people in with the promise of a job, taking their money and leaving them with no job.

After weeks of investigating, we have the warning you should share with your family and friends.

Donovan Selman says he heard about a job touting forklift operator positions with full benefits and paid vacation sounded great.

“The biggest highlight was $18.25 an hour,” Selman said.

It was just what Selman was looking for to cover extra expenses as his daughter headed off to Kentucky for college.

“I just happened to get an email from Coca-Cola,” said Selman.

The message said, “The forklift position you have applied for is available.” It said it was “98% guaranteed.”

To obtain the job, the message said Selman had to get “OSHA certified.”

The certification training would cost $80, but the message assured him he would be reimbursed immediately at his job orientation the same day.

“They described it as ‘We need you to pretty much hurry up, get to the place and get certified and send me your credentials,’” Selman told investigator Amy Davis.

He followed the instructions and drove to Southwest Forklift in the 16000 block of West Hardy in the Greenspoint area.

Inside, he saw a very official-looking OSHA logo behind the receptionist where he paid his $80.

“I did see a big sign with OSHA, so I was just thinking it was legit,” he explains.

But what happened next raised one red flag after another. First, Selman watched a video and answered a 27 multiple-choice question quiz. Then he got this forklift certification.

“I was like, ‘Am I supposed to do the driving side of it?’ They said, ‘Oh, no. Don’t worry about it. You good to go.’”

On-site there are OSHA logos, training videos, and even reserved parking spaces for forklifts. The only thing missing is actual forklifts.

“So the name of the company is Southwest Forklift, but you never saw a forklift?” asked Davis.

“No forklifts; and that was a big flag,” said Selman.

KPRC 2 goes Undercover to investigate Southwest Forklift

It was the same story when we sent in a KPRC 2 news photographer. He was wearing a hidden camera and walked in asking about the OSHA certification.

“Do you know how long the course is?” he asks.

“Probably an hour and a half,” the receptionist responded.

He paid the $80, watched the safety video, and completed the quiz. Next, he received a forklift operator certification card. The entire process took less than 30 minutes.

Forklift Company explains what you should expect from training

Erin Russell is a forklift operator trainer at Lonestar Forklift in North Houston.

“I would definitely say the hands-on training is the main part of the forklift certification, said Russell.

“I don’t see how anybody could competently operate a forklift without driving the forklift.”

For 27 years Lonestar has sold forklifts and provided the OSHA-required training to operators. She says the OSHA rule is clear.

“It does specifically say that a demonstration and hands-on practice is required,” said Russell.

Selman says as soon as his training was complete, he got another text about that promised job.

“And I was told, ‘Don’t worry about going to Coca-Cola. We will get back with you and tell you the time to come in for an interview,’” he explained.

But he never heard another word. We checked with Coca-Cola and found they are hiring, but the company says they train their own employees and have never worked with Southwest Forklift.

Dozens of victims

“It is deceptive. You know, they’re lying,” said Grace Mejorado.

Grace Mejorado’s son fell for the same son stunt. He now has a worthless forklift certification card, but no job from Coca-Cola. In fact, Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages told us it is hiring but trains its own employees and has never worked with Southwest Forklift.

“They’re fishing people in to take their money,” said Grace.

According to complaints online and to Houston Better Business Bureau, others say Southwest Forklift has made this job promise for years.

The people behind Southwest Forklift

When no one from the business would return our calls, we dropped by Southwest Forklift.

“People say that you guys are luring them here with the promise of a job and then they never get a job,” Davis said to the receptionist who goes by the name Roz.

“No ma’am,” Roz responded.

“Are there forklifts in here at all? Could you show us the forklifts?” Amy said.

The receptionist shut the door on us instead of answering our questions. Based on public records, we were able to get some information about who owns the company.

In 2014, a man by the name of Segio Hernandez, claiming to be the owner of Southwest Forklift, sued his landlord in Dallas for locking him out of the commercial property he was leasing for the business. That is the same name of the man who originally leased the property at 16613 West Hardy in Houston.

In recent months, a man by the name of Anthony Ortega has claimed to be the owner. On LinkedIn, his account shows he is the owner of a company called Forkift Solutions. He posted forkift training and certification at 16613 West Hardy. In the same post, he wrote “Hiring now for amazon warehouse shipping and receiving 3 shifts open and ready to fill with right candidates.”

When we called the phone number sending texts to job seekers, a man told Davis he had job openings at Coca Cola, but she needed to go to Southwest Forklift as soon as possible to get her forklift certification. The next time she called the same number to ask for Sergio Hernandez or the owner of Southwest Forklift, the man who answered the phone told her he was with a recruiting company. He said he does refer people to Southwest Forklift, owned by a man named Anthony Ortega. He declined to give Davis a phone number for Ortega; but said he would ask him to call her. No one from Southwest Forklift ever called; but they continued to do brisk business at the West Hardy location. We also found more information about the company, operating locations in Dallas and California as well.

There is no Sergio Hernandez, Anthony Ortega or Southwest Forklift in Dallas or on West Hardy in Houston registered to do business in the state of Texas with the Secretary of State’s office.

The Southwest Forklift on West Hardy should not be confused with the business by the same name at 1906 B2 Johanna Drive. KPRC 2 Investigates spoke with that business. They told Davis they routinely get calls and visits from angry customers of the other Southwest Forklift who want their money back when they realize the certification they paid for doesn’t mean they got a job.

Why is no one stopping the practice?

Davis reached out to OSHA about their requirements. A spokesperson confirmed a short video does not meet the requirements of the OSHA required forklift training but there is no enforcement arm of the federal agency that would go after companies like Southwest Forklift selling fraudulent certification cards.

There are a few ways you can check out a company before taking part in the training. Like we mentioned, you can check the BBB for complaints. You can also check Yelp and Facebook or Google reviews.

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.