SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Two men were sentenced in federal court in San Jose to 18 months in prison for a “low-ball estimate” moving company fraud scheme following an investigation dating back to 2003, a U.S. attorney said.

A multi-year joint federal investigation into business practices of San Jose-based AY Transport Inc. and Miami-based National Moving Network began following complaints from customers, Haag said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been investigating the case since 2003, according to Haag.

Asaf Nass, an operations manager for the moving company AY Transport, also known as Progressive Van Lines, or Midwest Relocation Services, admitted to working a scheme to defraud customers with the assistance of Miami-based moving broker National Moving Network, Haag said.

Nass and 13 employees from the two companies were indicted on charges of conspiracy and extortion in December 2007, the Office of the Inspector General said.

Nass was sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty to conspiring to extort customers, Haag said.

The two companies worked together to lure in customers with inaccurate prices and then charge more. The customers would then be told to pay increased fees or not receive their belongings, according to the U.S. attorney.

The increased fees sometimes amounted to two or three times the original amount provided by National Moving Network.

Haag said if a customer refused to pay the increased fees, their goods were sometimes held in storage lockers. Nass on occasion even instructed AY Transport employees to sell the customers’ goods at an auction if they failed to pay.

An accomplice in the moving scheme, National Moving Network’s former owner and president Randy Goldberg, was also sentenced to 18 months incarceration followed by one year of supervised release as a result of his guilty plea to one count of criminal possession of household goods on March 5 in San Jose, Haag said.

Seven other employees at the two companies received probationary sentences following guilty pleas for their roles in the scheme, Haag said.

Nass will begin serving his sentence on June 18, followed by three years of supervised release, according the U.S. attorney.

The Office of the Inspector General’s website, states that the owner and chief executive officer of AY Transport Amit Ezyoni, 42, is wanted by law enforcement officials and is considered armed and dangerous.

Former AY Transport employees Eli Kaupp and Barak Braunshtain also remain at large and are considered armed and dangerous as well, according to the Offiice of the Inspector General.

Investigators said Ezyoni and his co-conspirators may have “lured over 1,000 customers with artificially low moving estimates, and then extorted them by holding their household goods hostage until they paid fraudulently inflated prices,” between April 2001 to October 2005.

The three wanted suspects were all born in Israel and were last known to be residing in Florida.

The losses resulting from the scheme are estimated at over $250,000 and the total restitution amount to be paid by the employees of the moving companies remains undetermined.

A hearing to determine the restitution amount is scheduled for May 21 at 9:30 a.m. in San Jose, according to Haag.

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