in

Marcos Daniel Jiménez, United States Attorney for the Southern Distr…

Marcos Daniel Jiménez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Tod Alan Hildebrand, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation; and William P. Tompkins, Special Agent in Charge, United States Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General, announced today that employees of All Points USA Relocation Systems, Inc., Firas Hleihil, Baruch Shalit and Wanderson Da Silva, were convicted by a Fort Lauderdale jury of committing wire fraud, mail fraud, extortion, and conspiracy charges in connection with a household moving scheme that lured customers into doing business with the company by offering low estimates and then fraudulently inflating the price of the move and withholding the delivery of their goods until customers paid the inflated price.

After a two-week trial and hearing from approximately twenty of the eleven hundred victims that were defrauded by the defendants, the jury convicted all defendants of all charges in the indictment. Defendants Firas Hleihil and Baruch Shalit face a maximum term of 20 years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years’ supervised release. Defendant Da Silva faces a maximum term of 5 years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years’ supervised release. All three defendants were remanded into the custody of the Bureau of Prisons while awaiting sentencing. Sentencing is presently scheduled for April 30, 2004, before United States District Court Judge Kenneth Marra.

The underlying facts that gave rise to the convictions are summarized below. All Points USA Relocation Systems, Inc., which was based in Pembroke Park, Florida, represented itself to the public as a reputable and long-established moving company. The defendants Hleihil and Shalit, worked as salesmen, providing low moving estimates to customers to induce them to hire the company to move their goods.

Once customers retained the company, the company’s employees, including defendant Da Silva, who acted as a foreman, arrived at customers’ homes, charged customers excessive packing materials and labor time, loaded customers’ belongings in a moving truck, and rushed customers through the paperwork, causing them to sign blank or incomplete bills of lading and other documents, and failing to inform them of the total price of the move. Once the customers’ goods were loaded onto the moving truck, All Points USA Relocation Systems, Inc. employees fraudulently inflated the total price of the move, often by thousands of dollars, claiming that customers’ goods weighed more than had been originally estimated and/or by overcharging the customers for packing materials and labor time. When contacted by customers requesting the delivery of their goods, the defendants demanded full payment of the inflated price before delivery of the goods.

In many cases, the defendants, including Hleihil and Da Silva, ignored customers’ repeated complaints about the inflated price and/or lied to customers about the delivery of their goods. Defendant Hleihil acted as a dispatcher for a short period of time before assuming a sales position. Defendant Da Silva acted as a foreman and was later promoted to manage the New York warehouse of All Points. When customers refused to pay the inflated price, the defendants arranged to warehouse customers’ goods and refused to divulge the location of the goods to customers. The defendants threatened to sell, damage or auction off customers’ household goods and personal items if payment was not received within a certain period of time. In many cases, customers’ goods were damaged or missing, and the defendants refused to adequately compensate customers for those losses. The overall amount of fraud attributed to the defendants amounted to over $2 million over the course of the four year conspiracy. Over eleven hundred victims have been identified thus far.

This case was part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Transportation investigation dubbed “Operation Stow Biz,” which led to the arrest and prosecution of sixteen moving companies that operated in the Southern District of Florida.

Mr. Jiménez commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Cindy Morgan Kim and Christopher J. Clark.

British MP George Galloway and his opponent the Daily Telegraph will leave no stone unturned to sort out what could be a spectacular libel case.