A jury convicted the head of a now-defunct Woodinville moving company of conspiracy and extortion yesterday in a case that brought dozens of customers to the courtroom to complain...
A jury convicted the head of a now-defunct Woodinville moving company of conspiracy and extortion yesterday in a case that brought dozens of customers to the courtroom to complain they had been fleeced.
After deliberating for a week, the U.S. District Court jury in Tacoma convicted Erik Deri, founder of Nationwide Moving Systems, of 27 counts of extortion each representing a transaction with a different customer and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and extortion.
Customers claimed they had been lured to the company with a low price and later were told to pay more, often after their goods had been loaded onto the moving truck. Federal prosecutors had said Nationwide harmed more than 50 people in an attempt to bring in more than $1 million.
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Also yesterday, two others who worked at the company were convicted. Deri’s brother, Yuval Derei, who spells his name differently, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and extortion. Yosef Nahum was found guilty of one conspiracy count and four counts of extortion. The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years; it is 20 years for extortion.
The three, all Israeli nationals, face deportation after completing any sentence, said Deri’s lawyer, Robert Leen.
The jury acquitted Tanya Deri, Erik’s wife, of conspiracy and extortion.
The jury will be required to return for the trial’s sentencing phase, beginning Jan. 10.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year held that jurors, not judges, must decide the facts that determine a criminal sentence. Leen told Judge Franklin Burgess during the trial that he will raise objections to the procedure, citing due-process violations.
Deri, the company founder who came to the United States in 1997, testified he had not been present when customers learned often from a foreman helping to load the truck that to complete the move they would have to pay more than the earlier estimate. Deri, who was the only defendant to testify, said rather than harming customers, he had tried to help them, often lowering the price quoted by the foreman. He said his reputation was important.
Deri said conflicts over price sometimes were the results of wrong estimates by one of his employees but more often came about after customers underestimated the amount of household items to be moved.
The true weight often only became clear on moving day. Deri also said that Nationwide often worked as a subcontractor for other moving companies. Those other firms did the initial bid, and when Nationwide undertook the move, the discrepancy became clear between the bid and what the move should actually cost, Deri testified.
Three former Nationwide employees, Kristen Klein, Michael Airgood and Martin Kirk II, also had been charged but reached deals with prosecutors.
The government investigation into Nationwide began, according to charging papers, after a March 2003 Seattle Times article describing customers’ experiences with Nationwide.
Beth Kaiman: 206-464-2441 or firstname.lastname@example.org