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Daily Court Reporter - News Twelve charged in moving company scams

 

Twelve charged in moving company scams

A federal grand jury has charged 12 individuals with conspiring in a racketeering enterprise to defraud individuals through their moving companies located throughout the United States, including in Florida, Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, California, Connecticut, Colorado and Missouri. More than 900 customers have been identified as victims of the scheme thus far.

Five defendants have been arrested. The indictment was returned July 25 and was recentlyunsealed.

Benjamin C. Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Thomas J. Ullom, Regional Special Agent-in-Charge, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Angela L. Byers, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cincinnati Division, announced the charges.

According to the indictment, the defendants operated and worked through a number of affiliated moving companies, which include:

First National Moving and Storage

Public Moving and Storage

Flagship Van Lines

Public Moving Services

Independent Van Lines

Smart Relocation Solutions

JBR Underground

Trident Auto Shipping

National Relocation Van Lines

Unified Van Lines

National Relocation Solutions

United National Moving and Storage

Presidential Moving Services

US Relocation Systems

The co-conspirators owned, operated and worked as employees, members and associates of the affiliated moving companies. The moving companies were operated principally out of a business address in Hollywood, Fla. and had a warehouse in West Chester, Ohio.

It is alleged that the defendants executed a scheme between April 2013 through July 2018 to enrich themselves by stealing from customers who hired their moving companies to move their household goods.

To execute the alleged scheme, the defendants allegedly lied to customers about how long their moving companies had been in business, claiming many years of experience for companies that had been created just a few months prior. The defendants also allegedly created fake online reviews, praising the work of their moving companies.

When potential customers contacted the defendants, the defendants would allegedly provide customers with low binding estimates to do their move, promising to beat their competitor’s prices. After the customers agreed to hire the moving companies, employees of the moving companies would allegedly load the customers’ goods onto the truck and then bump the price of the move. Under federal regulations, in a binding estimate a customer and the motor carrier must both agree in writing to a charge for services prior to the start of any work. When an estimate is binding, USDOT prevents interstate carriers from raising the price of the move after loading customers’ items.

The defendants and the moving companies would allegedly refuse to give back the household goods until customers paid the inflated prices. If customers did not pay the inflated prices on the moves, it is alleged, the defendants would, in some cases, steal the customers’ household goods, never delivering them.

For example, in July 2016, First National Moving and Storage loaded a customer’s goods to transport from Round Rock, Texas to Columbus, Ohio. After loading the goods, the company increased the cost of the move and told the customer that she had to agree to the higher price or the customer’s goods would not be returned to her. The customer called the company to complain, and, during one phone call, the customer was told by the company that her items would be auctioned if she did not pay the higher price.

After customers complained to federal regulators and others, it is alleged that the defendants would shut down the latest iteration of the moving company, and open a new moving company. In doing so, the defendants allegedly lied to federal regulators and hid the identities of the true owners in order to receive licenses to operate. The defendants and other employees of the moving companies also used aliases with customers and regulators.

The defendants are charged with conspiring to conduct the affairs of the moving companies through a pattern of racketeering activity, consisting of multiple acts of wire fraud, theft of an interstate shipment by carrier, Hobbs Act extortion and identification fraud.

Those arrested today include:

Andrey Shuklin, 31 years old of Miami, Fla.

Phyllis Ricci Quincoces aka Faith Ashford aka Grace Rubestello aka Phyllis Ricci aka Phyllis Ann, 51 years old of Hollywood, Fla.

Vladimir Pestereanu aka Vova, 28 years old of Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.

Roman Iakovlev, 31 years old of Charlotte, N.C.

Jessica Martin aka Emma Ricci aka Mary Austin,28 years old of Tamarac, Fla.

“The arrests and actions taken today stemming from a criminal investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG) demonstrate our commitment to detecting and prosecuting fraudulent household goods movers who take advantage of unsuspecting customers by holding their personal belongings hostage for ransom,” said Thomas J. Ullom, DOT-OIG Regional Special Agent-in-Charge. “Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, as well as Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials, we will continue our vigorous efforts to ensure that commercial household goods movers adhere to Federal laws and regulations designed to protect the public.”

U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the investigation of this case by the USDOT and the assistance of the FBI, as well as Assistant United States Attorneys Megan Gaffney and Matthew Singer, who are prosecuting the case.

An indictment merely contains allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

If you believe you are a victim of this fraudulent activity, please call the Victim Hotline at 1-800-424-9071 or email hotline@oig.dot.gov (link sends e-mail).

About the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio

Our mission is to protect and serve the citizens of the Southern District of Ohio through the ethical, vigorous and impartial enforcement of the laws of the United States, and in so doing to defend the national security, improve the safety and quality of life in our communities, protect the public funds and financial assets of the United States, maintain a courteous and professional working environment, and, with skill and integrity, seek to do justice in every matter

We are the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio, one of 94 United States Attorney’s Offices in the country. We are a part of the Department of Justice. Our District is comprised of 48 counties in the southern half of the state.

We represent the interests of the United States, both criminal and civil, in federal court. It is our responsibility to enforce federal criminal laws. We work to prevent terrorism and promote the nation’s security. We are committed to preventing crime, enforcing federal laws, and representing the rights and interests of the American people. We strive to ensure the fair and efficient administration of justice for all Americans.

We prosecute those individuals and organizations that violate federal criminal statutes. We work with a multitude of federal, state, and local agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Park Service, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Secret Service, The Ohio Highway Patrol, and multitude of local law enforcement agencies. We prosecute a wide-variety of offenses including domestic and foreign terrorism; child pornography and exploitation; civil rights violations; bank robbery and other violent crimes; firearms offenses; drug trafficking; health care fraud; immigration violations; public corruption; tax evasion; mail, bank and wire fraud; environmental offenses; and identity theft.

We also represent the United States in civil litigation, affirmative and defensive. As such, we sue individuals or entities who have violated federal civil laws. We also defend the interests of the United States when it, or one of its departments, agencies, or employees is sued, and we defend federal programs and agency actions.

We collect monies owed to the United States from forfeiture, restitution, and fines imposed as a part of the judgment in federal cases. We also pursue collection of civil debts owed to the United States, including student, small business, housing, and farm loans. Finally, we represent the interests of federal agencies in bankruptcy court.

Our district covers the bottom half of the state of Ohio.

Our district contains three staffed offices in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton. The Columbus office is the headquarters of our District and is the largest, followed by Cincinnati then Dayton.

Date Published: August 22, 2018

 

The United States Attorneys Office Southern District of Ohio

 

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