November 5, 2009
Kansas City, Mo. - A Missouri Attorney General's office investigation of fraudulent activity among Kansas City and St. Louis-area locksmiths has led to federal criminal charges against three people and state criminal charges against a Kansas City-area man.
According to Attorney General Chris Koster, the Attorney General's office investigated Dependable Locks of Tampa, Florida, for fraudulently advertising by using at least 16 different names that all led consumers to one company, and for charging customers 2-3 times more than the price quoted them to unlock their cars.
A joint state-federal investigation led to allegations that a national network of at least 100 locksmith technicians, operating from major population centers across the United States, were instructed to charge up to $179 for unlocking customers' cars, after the customers were quoted the price of $54 by the company's telephone dispatchers. The federal affidavit also says that many of the locksmith technicians working for Dependable Locks are aliens who entered the United States either illegally, or are on visas that do not permit them to work as locksmith technicians.
"I appreciate the hard work of individuals in my office, as well as the United States Attorney's office in St. Louis, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Overland Park Police Department in their thorough investigation of Dependable Locks," Koster said. "Our goal was to stop this fraud and protect consumers. Today's arrests not only target some of the key players but also serve as a notice that we will investigate and prosecute this type of criminal behavior."
Consumers can call the Attorney General's Consumer Complaint hotline at 800-392-8222, or go to the Attorney General's website at ago.mo.gov to file a complaint. Also, the US Postal Inspectors have established a hotline for those believing they are victims of this scheme. The phone will not be manned, however, callers will be asked to leave contact information, which will trigger an investigative response. The phone number is 314-539-9441.
Charged in the federal criminal complaint:
Eliyahu Barhanun, a.k.a. Elis Barhanun, a.k.a. Eli Barhanin, of Creve Coeur, Mo, is charged with a felony violation of structuring financial trasactions to avoid federal reporting requirements, and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering.
David Peer and Moshe Aharoni, both of Clearwater, Florida, are each charged with conspiracy to recruit and employ aliens who are not authorized to work in the United States, mail and wire fraud, and engaging in financial transactions to promote unlawful activity.
Each of the above violations carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000.
Charged in the state criminal complaint:
Yosef Amitay, of Overland Park, Kansas, is charged with two counts of the Class D felony of unlawful merchandising practices.
A class D felony in Missouri carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.
"The Attorney General's office was initially alerted to this fraud by Kansas City-area media outlets," Koster noted. "Based on this information, we initiated a lengthy investigation that has led to today's arrests."
The charges set forth in a complaint are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.