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Wednesday, January 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

2 plead guilty in suspected Woodinville moving scam

By Peter Lewis
Seattle Times consumer affairs reporter

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The first guilty pleas have been entered in a federal case against a now-defunct Woodinville moving company accused of scamming dozens of consumers.

It's possible that last week's guilty pleas by Kristen Klein and Michael Airgood could put pressure on the remaining defendants, including company owners Erik and Tanya Deri, to change their pleas, according to lawyers close to the case.

Doing business as Nationwide Moving Systems, which started in May 2002, the defendants offered low estimates, then inflated the price and withheld delivery of customers' belongings until they paid, the government charged.

In court papers, the government credited a March article in The Seattle Times with sparking an investigation that led to the indictment of seven defendants on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion.

In Tacoma last week, U.S. Judge Franklin Burgess accepted Airgood's guilty plea to six counts of extortion and Klein's guilty plea to a single count of wire fraud.

By statute, both Klein and Airgood face up to 20 years in prison. The plea agreement leaves open the possibility that the government will recommend a departure from sentencing guidelines if they cooperate. Their lawyers said neither Klein nor Airgood would be sentenced until they gave testimony at trial, which is scheduled for Feb. 23.

Airgood and Klein are husband and wife, according to Jim Vonasch, Klein's defense attorney. He maintained each played relatively minor roles in the scam, she as an office worker and he as a member of a moving crew. The couple are raising three small children, Vonasch said.

"They (Airgood and Klein) were stuck there (at Nationwide) making very little money," he said. "By the time they realized they shouldn't be doing it, they were trapped."

In a plea agreement, Airgood said he worked as a packer and later as moving-crew foreman. He admitted he deliberately under-packed boxes to take up more space on the truck and allow overcharging.

Airgood also admitted he demanded additional money from customers and threatened them with permanent loss of their household goods if they refused to pay.

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According to her plea agreement, Klein's duties included providing an estimated price to potential customers who telephoned. Her supervisors, including the Deris, Joe Naham and Yuval Derei, instructed her to lure customers into doing business with Nationwide by providing artificially low estimates, Klein said in her plea agreement.

Yesterday, Timothy Lohraff, lawyer for Erik Deri, had no comment on the guilty pleas, saying his client still plans on going to trial. Tanya's lawyer, Jim Frush, said the same. Erik Deri, an Israeli citizen, faces possible deportation if convicted.

Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or plewis@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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