PHILADELPHIA – U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced Wednesday that Matthew Pardi, 37, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Ashley Lynn Hars, of Plantation, Florida, along with Pardi’s wholly owned corporation, Proud American Vanlines, LLC, formerly known as Moving Accounting Department, LLC, were charged by indictment with wire fraud, interstate transportation of property obtained by fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme in which they held customers’ belongings for ransom.
The indictment alleges that over the course of more than three years, Pardi and Hars created a series of online profiles for moving companies, stealing the identities of legitimate companies to support their fake identities.
The defendants falsely claimed that the companies were “family owned,” that they had been in business for over a decade and boasted more than a thousand satisfied customers.
The defendants created false five-star reviews on their own websites and on legitimate review websites such as the Better Business Bureau and Yelp!, in order to trick customers into booking their moving services and providing deposits, according to the indictment, which stated that once the customer was ensnared, the defendants routinely increased the estimate of their fees, both before the move was begun and after the goods were loaded onto the moving truck, “in clear violation of federal regulations.”
If a customer refused to agree to pay the increased price, the defendants refused to deliver the customer’s household goods, according to the indictment.
As a result of the alleged scheme, the defendants fraudulently obtained more than $12 million, the indictment stated.
The defendants and their associates allegedly created and conducted business under the following Pardi Company names and websites: American Eagle Moving (americaneaglemoving.net); Alliance Movers (alliancemoversinc.com); Titan Moving and Storage (titanmovingandstorage.com); First Call Relocations (firstcallrelocations.com); Trans World Van Lines, Inc. (transworldvanlinesinc.com, transworldvanlines.net); Safeway Moving System (safewaymovingsystem.com); Gateway Moving and Storage (gatewaymovingand-storage.com); and Prestige Worldwide Moving (prestigeworldwidemoving.com), among others.
“With spring right around the corner and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, many Americans will be boxing up their belongings and moving to a new home that better suits their changed lifestyle,” Williams said.
“During what is typically a very stressful transition, consumers need to be able to rely upon the trustworthiness of the companies they hire to safeguard their valuables and transport them to their destination. We will continue to do everything we can to protect the public from fraudsters who employ illegal, extortionate tactics.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Jacqueline Maguire said fraudsters can try to use multiple aliases behind which to hide their fraud, and various ways by which to manipulate public reviews, so as to fool even people who were doing their due diligence.
“The bottom line is, together with our law enforcement partners, the FBI will still find you,” Maguire said. “And as we do our work to bring the criminals to justice, we remind the public that research and awareness are still the best forms of protection. Before contracting with a moving company, be sure to search reviews, seek recommendations from those you trust, and obtain bids from multiple sources. Don’t let price drive your decision, or it could end up costing you far more than you imagine. If you were victimized by any of the Pardi Companies listed in the indictment, we want to hear from you at [email protected].”
Joseph Harris, regional special agent-in-charge at Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General of the Northeastern Region, said the indictment “demonstrates our commitment to detecting and pursuing fraudulent household goods movers who unscrupulously take advantage of customers by being deceitful about the services they provide. As we continue working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, as well as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, we also encourage the public to review resources and tools available at https://www.oig.dot.gov/investigations/household-goods-moving-fraud.”
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of more than 300 years in prison, and fines of up to $6.25 million.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Nancy Rue.
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