California Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced that Eliyahu Sharvit, owner of West Coast Movers, was sentenced on Friday in San Diego County Superior Court for felony grand theft in connection with the firm’s handling of a Chula Vista woman’s move to Florida.

Sharvit was sentenced by San Diego County Superior Court Judge John M. Thompson to 84 days in jail (already served), a three-year suspended sentence and summary probation. Under a plea agreement, Sharvit also has paid the victim in the case, Julianne Black of Chula Vista, $27,020 in restitution. Additionally, he has paid $2,980 in restitution to Jason and Jennifer Ketner of San Diego, victims prosecutors learned about after charges were filed against Sharvit in the Black case. Sharvit is not a U.S. citizen and will be deported to Israel because of his felony conviction.

“Mr. Sharvit tried to defraud his customers out of thousands of dollars,” Lockyer said. “He held their property hostage when they refused to pay more than they bargained for, and ultimately extorted thousands of dollars from them. Consumer ripoffs by bad actors in the moving industry are becoming more prevalent in California and across the country. To help protect consumers against this growing problem, we’re going to seek criminal charges whenever appropriate.”

Acting on consumer complaints, the Attorney General’s Office worked with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office to investigate West Coast Movers and secure Sharvit’s arrest, conviction and sentencing. State and local prosecutors received assistance from the state Department of Food & Agriculture’s Division of Weights and Measurement Standards.

Following his arrest, Sharvit pled guilty to one count of felony grand theft of personal property in connection with West Coast’s June 2003 agreement to move Black from her Chula Vista residence to Sarasota, Fla. West Coast agreed to move Black’s household goods for $2,540. The price was based on an estimate that the goods weighed 4,501 pounds. West Coast did not conduct its own inspection of Black’s belongings.

At the time it entered into the agreement with Black, West Coast was not authorized to operate in California. The company did not have a valid permit from the California Public Utilities Commission, and its license had been revoked effective April 1, 2003 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Black was not aware West Coast was operating illegally when she contracted with the firm, according to a press statement.

Black eventually went to Florida, with her belongings still in California. After Black arrived in Florida, West Coast contacted her and told her the move would cost $8,290, almost $6,000 more than the agreed upon price. West Coast said the increase was based on a new estimate that her goods weighed 14,000, rather than 4,501 pounds.

After Black balked at paying the additional amount, Sharvit told her West Coast had placed her belongings in the company’s storage facility in Chatsworth, Calif. He said she would not get her property until she paid the $8,290, a press statement revealed.

Black ultimately contacted another mover, which sent her an estimate that it could move her for $3,480. When Black informed Sharvit of her decision to hire the other mover, he told her he would not release her belongings to the mover unless she paid Sharvit $2,550. Unconvinced she owed West Coast any money but fearful her property would be damaged, Black agreed to provide Sharvit a cashier’s check to get her belongings back.

Subsequent investigation by state and local authorities determined Black’s property weighed 8,540 pounds less than Sharvit said it weighed in demanding the additional payment of almost $6,000 – for an unauthorized, unlicensed move.

Lockyer co-sponsored a new statute (AB 845, Vargas) that toughened state laws regulating movers and strengthened penalties for violations. AB 845 increased the maximum criminal sanctions from a $1,000 fine and three months in jail to a $10,000 fine and one year in jail. Additionally, the new statute requires movers to provide customers a “not to exceed” price up front, and prohibits companies from refusing to deliver goods once a customer pays that price.

Movers also will be responsible for the conduct of subcontractors, and no longer will be able to shield themselves from liability by entering such arrangements.

Consumers can file complaints against moving companies with the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit at www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/mailform.htm  or by writing to the Public Inquiry Unit at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.

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