CLEARWATER — Two owners of a national locksmith company based in Clearwater were arrested on mail fraud charges after federal authorities started getting complaints about price gouging.
Moshe Aharoni, 28, was arrested Wednesday when authorities raided Dependable Locks Inc. at 407 S Arcturas Ave. David Peer, 31, turned himself in Thursday afternoon to the U.S. Marshal's Office in Tampa. They both are charged with federal mail fraud.
Federal agents entered the tan building and retrieved paperwork and made copies of computer hard drives.
A third man, Eliyahu Barhanun, 29, was arrested in Missouri and is accused of conspiracy with others to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, court documents said. It's unclear what relationship Barhanun has with the company.
During the raid Wednesday, federal authorities also spoke with the nearly 20 employees who were working in the call center at Dependable Locks headquarters. None of them were arrested, said Doug Smith, of the Tampa branch of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the agency that led the raid. Clearwater police assisted.
Smith said the raid was done by the Tampa office to help the U.S. Postal Inspections Service's Eastern District in Missouri and the Office of the Missouri Attorney General's Office.
Those two agencies have been investigating Dependable Locks for using the mail system to send money that was fraudulently obtained.
"They don't have the jurisdiction here so we obtained the search warrant," Smith said.
Founded in New York, Dependable Locks registered in Florida in January 2006 and moved its headquarters to Clearwater. The company specializes in opening locked doors 24 hours a day when keys are lost.
According to the court affidavit, workers at Dependable Lock would give Missouri residents one quote on the phone but once the services were performed, the cost would double and sometimes even triple.
Locksmith technicians would withhold driver's licenses and car keys, and even threaten to call the police if the higher amount was not paid, court documents said. A portion of the overage was then shipped to the Clearwater office in the form of money orders.
For example, in April, $4,500 worth of U.S. Postal Office money orders were sent to the Dependable Locks address, court documents said.
From November 2008 to October 2009, locksmith technicians for Dependable Locks in Missouri purchased and sent at least 39 money orders, and shipped 32 Express Mail parcels to Clearwater. It's unclear how much money was actually sent.
Dependable Locks has more than 100 locksmith technicians throughout the country. According to court documents, technicians are "trained and instructed by Dependable Locks managers to use coercive and intimidating techniques to ensure consumer payment, especially in the case of consumers who object to the fraudulent overcharge."
Florida and 35 other states do not regulate locksmiths. Smith said he is checking with the state and other consumer agencies to see how many complaints have been lodged by Floridians.
News researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.