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Moving-company boss gets 7 years for pricing fraud
Seattle Times consumer-affairs reporter
TACOMA — The leader of a household moving company, whose business ripped off dozens of people by slamming them with high prices after reeling them in with low quotes, was sentenced to seven years in prison yesterday.
Prosecutors said Erik Deri, an Israeli national who ran Woodinville-based Nationwide Moving & Storage, collected more than $1.2 million — twice the amount his customers had been quoted — between May 2002 and July 2003, when federal agents shut down the business.
U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess imposed the sentence on Deri, 33, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 27 counts of extortion.
Federal prosecutors had sought a prison term of 14 years, saying that the jurors who convicted him last year never heard from the vast majority of consumers caught up in the roughly 400 moves Deri's company had done.
Contending that Burgess should consider all the victims at sentencing, prosecutors presented Burgess with a spreadsheet, including figures showing the extent of Deri's business.
In one of the first court filings in the case, the government credited a March 2003 Seattle Times article with sparking its investigation.
The story and trial testimony detailed cases in which customers complained that Nationwide threatened they'd never see their stuff again unless they paid inflated prices.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Warma yesterday called Deri's crimes "ruthless, heartless and calculated." She urged the court "not to turn a blind eye" to the extent of damage he caused, and to sentence Deri harshly to send a message to other predatory moving companies. Many of them are run by, and employ Israeli nationals, a review of similar cases shows.
By contrast, defense attorney Robert Leen, who recommended a 5-year prison term, described what happened as "a business crime." He chastised the government for acting more as a "victim's advocate" and less as professional prosecutor.
Speaking on his own behalf, Deri did not admit wrongdoing. Instead, he said he was sorry if some people "think I did them wrong."
Deri said he was most sorry about forcing his wife's parents into debt to pay her attorney's fees, and that he would not be around to help her raise their young child. Deri's wife, U.S.-born Tanya Deri, was acquitted in the case.
Burgess indicated he'd have no objection if Deri wants to petition the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons to serve part of his sentence in Israel under a treaty with the U.S.
Also sentenced yesterday was another Israeli, Yosef Naham, 56, a manager for Nationwide Moving. He received a five-year prison term, followed by three years' supervised release, conditions that also attached to Deri's sentence. Naham was convicted of conspiracy and four counts of extortion.
Last week, Burgess sentenced Deri's younger brother, Yuval Derei, 30, also a manager, to 30 months in prison for conspiracy and one count of extortion. Three other defendants who had pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government were sentenced earlier this year.
Martin Kirk II, who worked as a driver and foreman, was sentenced to 15 months, and Michael Airgood, a packer and foreman, received a year and a day after each pleaded guilty to six counts of extortion. Kristen Klein, the company's secretary, received 36 months' probation after pleading guilty to a single count of wire fraud.
Also in the courtroom yesterday was Jeanette Hill-Marshall, one of the customers swindled by Nationwide. She said she was quoted a price of $800 for a move from Federal Way to Shreveport, La., in February 2003. Once her goods were packed up, the business demanded $4,000; Deri later agreed to lower the price to $1,600, she said.
Hill-Marshall said she was not disappointed with the length of Deri's sentence. But she remains upset that much of her furniture remains broken and locked up in a warehouse in Shreveport.
Hill-Marshall, who said she is unemployed, produced a copy of what appeared to be a $4,145 small-claims judgment she won in King County District Court against Nationwide in connection with the moving job.
She has little hope of collecting because the main defendants are going to prison, then possibly being deported, and Tanya Deri told her she's filed for bankruptcy, Hill-Marshall said.
Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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