A federal grand jury indicted a dozen moving company employees who are accused of scamming more than 900 customers in Maryland and across the United States, the U.S. Department of Justice announced this week.
The Justice Department alleges that the employees, five of whom were arrested Monday, hiked up their prices after moving customers’ items onto trucks and then refused to return the items until customers paid the increased price. In some cases, prosecutors said, the employees stole the customers’ belongings if they refused to pay.
The Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland said it had handled nearly 100 consumer complaints against the various employees. One of the companies the employees allegedly used, US Relocation Systems, listed a Baltimore address and brought a range of complaints across the U.S., the bureau said in a news release. The Maryland BBB said it had worked with federal law enforcement on the investigation.
Those arrested were charged with racketeering, wire fraud, extortion and theft. They include Andrey Shuklin, 31, of Miami; Phyllis Ricci Quincoces, 51, of Hollywood, Fla.; Vladimir Pestereanu, 28, of Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.; Jessica Martin, 28, of Tamarac, Fla.; and Roman Iakovlev, 31, of Charlotte, N.C., were charged with racketeering, wire fraud, extortion and theft.
“Mr. Shuklin will be pleading not guilty and intends to vigorously defend against the government’s allegations,” lawyers Jason Kreiss and Eric Schwartzreich said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun.
Lawyers for the other suspects either did not respond to requests for comment or were not listed in online court records.
Prosecutors said the companies primarily operated out of an address in Hollywood, Fla., and used a warehouse near Cincinnati.
Prosecutors say the employees wrote fake online reviews, lied to customers about the companies’ histories and routinely jacked up their prices after agreeing to lower prices with customers, according to a news release from the office of Benjamin C. Glassman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, who brought the charges
Prosecutors said the scheme operated for more than five years, from April 2013 through last month.
They said the defendants shut down several companies after customers’ complaints to regulators, opening a new company in a different name and lying to regulators about who the owners were.
Angie Barnett, president and CEO of Maryland’s Better Business Bureau, said the indictment marked “a great day for consumers and honest interstate movers, who have been deeply hurt by a handful of deceitful operators.”
“Time and time again, consumers shared horror stories that corroborate the indictments of wire fraud, theft, extortion, and identification fraud,” she said in a statement. “Some had been sleeping on air mattresses for weeks or more, stranded in a new state without their belongings at the mercy of experienced schemers.”