CLEARWATER, Florida - Just days after a 10 Connects investigation into deceptive sales practices by a national locksmith chain based in Tampa Bay, federal agents stormed the headquarters of "Dependable Locks," seizing computers and documents and arresting one of its owners for alleged money laundering.
"This reaches throughout the United States," said Doug Smith with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the agency to raid the office. "Clearwater...is where a lot of the employees were working, basically in a call center-type scenario."
Despite hundreds of complaints to dozens of different state agencies, it took a collective effort from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Missouri Attorney General, and Clearwater Police to bring the company down because locksmiths are unregulated in 36 states, including Florida.
Watch our follow-up story on Florida's lack of locksmith legislation.
Investigators arrested one of the owners of "Dependable Locks," Moshe Aharoni, charging him with federal mail fraud. An affidavit (read it in its entirety here) accuses Aharoni, 28, and fellow owner David Peer, 31, of laundering money from over a hundred locksmiths across the county through Postal Service money orders. Peer turned himself into federal marshalls Thursday.
The affidavit also accuses the owners of instructing their more than 100 employees - many of whom were Israeli nationals in the U.S. without work visas - how to overcharge and deceive customers. The Better Business Bureau gave the company an "F" rating because of hundreds of complaints received over the past two years.
The bust was months in the making, and more arrests are expected. A St. Louis man - Eliyahu Barhanun, 29 - was arrested in a simultaneous sting in Missouri.
"More complaints will come in," Smith continued, "and you've got to remember, these are allegations, so there's more investigating to do."
U.S. Postal Inspectors have established a hotline for those believing they victims of locksmiths' deceptive sales practices. The phone will not be manned, but callers are encouraged to leave their contact information at 314-539-9441. The calls will trigger an investigative response. There is also a toll-free number - 877-876-2455 - but there are more steps to finding the right extension.
To protect yourself in the future, look around for a reputable locksmith now. It will help prevent you from being taken advantage of in case of emergency.
The Associated Locksmiths of America provides a list of member locksmiths at www.findalocksmith.com. Or, as one viewer commented on 10 Connects' initial investigation, "I would check with www.angieslist.com the listings include reviews of actual customers not someone willing to pay a membership fee. Also check www.BBB.org."
Follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky or Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky.
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