Moving Company Employees Guilty in 'Despicable' Scheme

Prosecutors said companies would hold belongings hostage, demand extra fees
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2023 9:03 AM CST
Moving Company Employees Guilty in 'Despicable' Scheme
The companies would load people's belongings onto trucks and then demand extra fees, prosecutors said.   (Getty Images/sathit trakunpunlert)

Two people who worked for a succession of fraudulent moving companies based in New York City are going to be moving to federal prisons for up to 20 years. A jury found Kristy Mak, 34, and Andre Prince, 45, guilty of one count of wire fraud in what prosecutors described as a "despicable" scheme to scam people in the middle of moving. Prosecutors said companies controlled by Yakov Moroz would give customers cheap estimates and then add steep fees to double or triple the price after the contract was signed, often when the customers' possessions had already been loaded onto a truck, the New York Times reports. Prosecutors said the companies, which frequently changed their names, used fake reviews and fake websites to portray themselves as "trusted interstate movers."

Prosecutors said drivers would threaten to "hold their goods hostage" if customers didn't pay up. Kristin Smith, a customer service rep at the companies who took a plea deal, testified that she prepared a script for workers to use with irate clients, which said customers had a week to pay up before items in storage were auctioned off, the New York Daily News reports. Mak was a sales manager and Prince was a member of the sales team. Prosecutors said they both joked about the scam, with Prince reacting with a laughing emoji and "That is so accurate" to a meme about being uncontactable on moving days. They face up to 20 years in prison when they are sentenced in April. Moroz, their former boss, is a fugitive.

"The jury found that these defendants conspired in a despicable scheme to steal from their victims when they were most vulnerable and at the mercy of crooked movers holding their worldly possessions hostage. No person who contracts for moving services should be exploited in this manner," US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. Prosecutors said the companies scammed more than $3 million from at least 800 victims between 2017 and 2020. The prosecution was part of wider federal effort to address what authorities say is a "significant uptick in complaints of movers holding household possessions hostage to extort exorbitant additional charges," the Times reports. (More moving stories.)

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