Lisa Celli was excited to start her first day on Jan. 5 as a contractor delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service in the small unincorporated town in California where she and her husband live.
Less than 24 hours after finishing her first route for Ameritrans Express, headquartered in Dumfries, Virginia, Celli received an alarming email from its owner, Frederick Amankwaa, stating the contract delivery company was taking “drastic action” and had submitted a notice that it was terminating its contracts with the Postal Service.
In an email obtained by FreightWaves, Amankwaa said the action was necessary to “force the USPS to allow Ameritrans to rebid the contracts under better terms and conditions.”
“We are fighting to sustain the route for you,” he wrote in his Jan. 6 email to contract delivery drivers.
However, Amankwaa’s plan backfired.
Celli never received a paycheck for $6,335 for the six weeks she worked as a contractor for Ameritrans, which filed for bankruptcy on June 28. Celli said the five other local contractors who worked on her route for Ameritrans weren’t paid either.
“It’s one thing to volunteer your time knowing you won’t be paid but it’s another thing when you are hired and you work 14-hour days to make sure that the people in your community get their mail and you never get paid and you find out later it’s likely the company never intended to pay you — that’s tough,” Celli told FreightWaves.
The Cellis, who live in Copperopolis, California, were forced to take out a payday loan for around $10,000 in late February to pay their living expenses after Amankwaa and his employees reportedly failed to address numerous calls and emails about when or if Celli and countless mail contractors working for Ameritrans across the country would be paid for work they performed in January and February.
On Feb. 14, a day before Celli and other Ameritrans contractors were to be paid, she received an email from Amankwaa notifying her that “payroll will have to be delayed for tomorrow’s check date.”
“I understand this is an unfortunate circumstance for you and I wanted to notify you personally that I am working on having this resolved,” Amankwaa wrote in his email to contractors. “I need to let you know that this payroll will be delayed up to a couple of days as I work to have you compensated. Many factors have led to this unfortunate situation but please know that you will be paid for the work you performed.”
However, that wasn’t true.
A day later, Celli and other mail contractors for Ameritrans received a second email from Amankwaa notifying them that their contract with the Postal Service had been terminated and that their employment would end on Feb. 19.
In an email, Amankwaa, who founded Ameritrans in 2013, encouraged his former mail contractors to “work toward a smooth transition with the USPS and the new contractor.”
“I recognize that you have been waiting to be paid for the work you have performed and I had hoped to be able to do that today,” Amankwaa wrote in this email. “Unfortunately, the payment I was expecting from the USPS did not come to me because the federal Department of Labor seized those funds. I had every intention of meeting my commitments but now I am unable to do so and have to file for bankruptcy.”
While Amankwaa sent an email to former employees on March 2 that Ameritrans was forced to file for bankruptcy, he waited almost four months before filing his Chapter 11 petition seeking to reorganize his company.
Ameritrans filed its petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on June 28.
The company, which has taken down its website since FreightWaves first reported the story in late June, stated it offers mail contracting services in more than 30 states.
In July, Ameritrans was advertising job openings for mail contract drivers after it filed for bankruptcy protection.
The filing lists Ameritrans’ assets as between $10 million and $50 million and its liabilities as between $1 million and $10 million. Ameritrans stated that it has up to 999 creditors and maintained that funds will be available for distribution to unsecured creditors once it pays administrative fees.
Ameritrans’ largest secured creditors include 13 factoring companies that are owed nearly $3.2 million.
As of publication, Ameritrans’ attorney, Jonathan B. Vivona, had not responded to FreightWaves’ request seeking comment.
Read related article: Former mail contractor says he, others owed thousands in back pay
A former contractor for Ameritrans, Dustin Paxson, 41, of Neskowin, Oregon, claims he is owed more than $15,000 in back wages, overtime and mileage reimbursement.
While he has been following Ameritrans’ bankruptcy proceedings, he said his hopes of recouping his money are dwindling. Paxson worked for Ameritrans Express for nearly two years, from April 2021 until February, when he claims Ameritrans stopped paying him and other delivery drivers.
Besides being owed six weeks’ pay, Paxson said he racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt and fees to pay his living expenses and buy fuel for his truck to ensure customers along his routes received their mail.
“I worked 14-hour shifts, six days a week and leveraged all of my credit cards to the brink, paying everything out of my own pocket, just so I could do my job during that time,” Paxson told FreightWaves. “My wife, Deb, and I are still trying to climb out of that debt.”
Trustee urges court to dismiss Chapter 11 or order liquidation
A U.S. trustee is asking the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Virginia to dismiss Ameritrans’ Chapter 11 petition or convert it to Chapter 7 liquidation.
A hearing is set for Sept. 26 regarding the motion filed on Aug. 24 by Kristen S. Eustis on behalf of acting U.S. Trustee Gerard R. Vetter, who was assigned to the case.
Court documents claim Ameritrans, which provided transportation and delivery services as a contractor for the U.S. Postal Service, does not have physical possession of vehicles it owns that are scattered across the country and “has failed to provide certain reasonably requested documents to the U.S. trustee, including proof of insurance on the vehicles.”
In court filings, Amankwaa and his attorney, Vivona, admitted that Ameritrans has not filed the reorganization paperwork as required by the bankruptcy court. The Labor Department confirmed that it has an ongoing investigation into Ameritrans but declined further comment.
As of publication, neither Amankwaa nor his attorney responded to FreightWaves’ multiple requests for comment.
In June, a judgment of $6,335 was entered against Ameritrans after Amankwaa failed to appear in small claims court in the Calaveras Superior Court in San Andreas, California, after Celli filed suit.
“We are continuing to fight but there’s been no response from Ameritrans,” Celli said. “We aren’t giving up but it’s frustrating to go to work for a company and never get paid. The signs were there when Ameritrans failed to respond to multiple emails about payment or benefits but their promises kept giving us hope that we would eventually get paid. That hope is gone.”
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