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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

April 23, 2004

Companies charged customers at least twice the contracted price

Two convicted for roles in moving service scam

By Dan Benson

A FEDERAL jury in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has convicted two people on extortion and fraud charges for their role in operating moving companies that swindled customers, including many in Wisconsin, by holding their furniture hostage until they paid double or more than the contracted price.

Convicted on Wednesday were Odelia Shmuelov, president and owner of Transworld Moving Inc. and a principal in Advanced Moving Systems Inc. in the Fort Lauderdale area, and Rafi Rafael Rokah, a foreman who worked for Transworld and Advanced Moving.

Rafi Rokah is the cousin of Zion Rokah, owner of Advanced Moving Systems. He was indicted on similar charges a year ago, along with 74 employees and owners of 14 other Florida-based moving companies.

Like many of those indicted, Zion Rokah is an Israeli national and is believed to have fled to Israel, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Castillo of the the U.S. attorney's Southern District of Florida office.

Zion Rokah and his company made headlines after two of his employees were arrested by Thiensville police in April 2002 when they refused to unload from their truck furniture belonging to Scott and Bridget Fletcher unless they were paid nearly double what the original estimate called for.

In December 2002, Elizabeth Stuckey paid Advanced Moving Systems $2,250 to move her possessions from Arlington, Texas, to Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood.

But she was forced to pay another $1,300 to get her furniture out of a Chicago warehouse.

Similar incidents involving Zion Rokah's company occurred in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa and other states.

Advanced Moving Systems is blacklisted on dozens of consumer watchdog Internet sites and was fined $98,000 in July 2002 by the U.S. government for violating several consumer regulations.

In 2002, Zion Rokah said in an interview that he blamed his legal problems on "stupid, small town, redneck police" who "hate Jews and strangers."

According to federal officials, it was Shmuelov who routinely delivered low-ball estimates to customers who found the company on the Internet, and it was Rafi Rokah who then drove up the price after customers' furniture had been loaded on company trucks.

A request has not been made to extradite Zion Rokah from Israel, said Castillo, who wouldn't say whether such a request would be made.

Bridget Fletcher, who testified at the just-concluded Florida trial, said she was told by an FBI agent that extradition was in the works.

FBI officials in Florida declined to comment.

Fletcher estimated that she and her husband lost $1,400 in cash and damaged goods and said she isn't sure whether they will ever be reimbursed. But she said she feels that a long ordeal has come to an end.

"I feel like a million bucks," she said.

Shmuelov and Rafi Rokah were found guilty of wire and mail fraud and extortion. Each could be imprisoned for 20 years and fined up to $250,000. They are scheduled to be sentenced July 14.

Shmuelov also was ordered to forfeit various assets, including her house, a 2000 Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 convertible, four semitrailer trucks and $1 million.

Officials estimate Transworld Moving Inc. and Advanced Moving Systems extorted more than $1.2 million from customers over a two-year period.

Zion Rokah told a reporter in 2002 that he estimated his company had revenue of more than $2 million a year.



FBI Miami list of the indicted companies
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