Three Israelis, including two owners of a locksmith company in Clearwater, Florida, were arrested on mail fraud charges and suspicion of instructing their employees to threaten their clients and force them to pay larger sums than what was agreed upon in advance.
Moshe Aharoni, 28, was arrested on Wednesday, when the authorities raided his company "Dependable Locks". Aharoni's partner, 31-year-old David Peer, turned himself in the next day.
A third person, 29-year-old Eliyahu Barhanun, 29, was arrested in Missouri on suspicion of conspiring to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.
Federal agents raided the business and confiscated documents and computer hard drives. The agents also questioned the business's 20 employees, but no arrests among the employees were made.
Barhanun's connection the company remains unclear.
According to suspicions, the company would agree with its customers in Missouri on a fee for its services in advance, but once the services were performed, the company's employees would demand a higher sum, sometimes up to three times the agreed upon amount.
In some cases the company's employees would withhold their customers' driver's licenses or car keys, and would even threaten to call the police until the sum was paid in full.
A portion of the amount charged was then sent by money order to the office in Florida. In April, $4,500 were transferred in this manner, as opposed to using a prepaid check, which is considered more reliable.
From November 2008 to October 2009, Dependable Locks employees in 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.
The company employs over 100 locksmiths around the United States. According to the court documents, the company trained its employees to use "coercive and intimidating techniques to ensure consumer payment, especially in the case of consumers who object to the fraudulent overcharge."