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Thursday, May 29, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movers ordered to shut business; firm may be back under new name

Times consumer affairs reporter

The federal government has shut down a Woodinville-based moving company that has been the subject of numerous consumer complaints, including allegations it held household goods until customers agreed to pay a higher price than first negotiated.

But the people behind the company apparently are back in business using a new name.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an order Tuesday directing 1-year-old Nationwide Moving Systems to cease all interstate transportation effective immediately. The order came after a compliance review of the carrier's operations resulted in fines exceeding $4,000 and an "unsatisfactory" safety rating.

Nationwide is also the subject of a federal criminal investigation arising from its alleged fraudulent activities. It apparently has reconstituted itself under a new name, either Northstar Relocation or Northstar Van Lines, based in Woodinville.

Potential customers calling Nationwide's toll-free number are told the company is not operating. They are being redirected to a "sister" company called Northstar Relocation.

Papers were filed earlier this month with the state Department of Licensing for "Northstar Van Lines" — a moving company with Tanya Deri as president and Erik Deri as her spouse. The Deris also ran Nationwide Moving Systems, which was listed as a prior business.

In addition, a former Nationwide employee who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Seattle Times that the company has re-formed under the new name with the same employees.

Erik Deri, an Israeli national who ran Nationwide, referred media inquiries to his attorneys. His lawyers declined to answer questions about Northstar or whether the operation had been renamed. In a prepared statement, they said:

"Unfortunately, due to The Seattle Times' unfair portrayals of both Nationwide Moving Systems professionally, and of the Deri's personally, Nationwide has been forced to close and has instead subcontracted out the last of its deliveries to licensed companies who will distribute all remaining customers' goods."

Told yesterday of the emergence of Northstar, Dave Longo, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the DOT agency that shut down Nationwide, said, "Oh my God, these guys are in business again?"

He said he planned to contact the agency's enforcement division.

In addition, Abraham "Ram" Katalan, the president of Northstar Moving Corp., of Northridge, Calif., a 9-year-old company with a good reputation with the Better Business Bureau and within the moving industry, wrote the Deris' new business yesterday claiming trademark infringement. The letter asked them to quit using the new name.

"We wouldn't want to get any ricochets on this," Katalan said in a phone interview.

Operating as Nationwide, the Deris drew numerous protests from consumers who complained that the company did not honor quotes, failed to arrive or deliver on time and lost or damaged items.

Consumers also noted that the company often used rental trucks and hired men from day-labor outfits instead of using a professional crew.

The government's order to shut down the company followed a compliance review that took place after a story outlining customer complaints appeared in The Times in March.

The federal investigators subsequently cited Nationwide for a number of violations, including among others: failing to implement an alcohol and/or controlled-substances-testing program; operating a motor vehicle without having the required minimum level of insurance; and failing to maintain a driver qualification file on each driver employed.

The media attention also helped to spark a criminal investigation by the DOT's office of the inspector general, an investigation that the Seattle U.S. Attorney's Office yesterday confirmed is continuing.

Spokesman Longo said his agency requires applicants seeking federal authority to operate as movers to declare previous affiliations they may have had with other carriers to prevent rogue carriers from reconstituting themselves.

"There is not a foolproof procedure to prevent high-risk safety carriers or fraudulent movers from re-entering the trucking industry," Longo said.

"The owner of a carrier that has had its operating authority rescinded could lie on his application, change the company name, address, etc., and use a different name to register as owner of record, to mask its identity when applying for registration."

To register for authority, a carrier is required to pay a $300 registration fee and have its insurance company show proof of insurance, Longo said.

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

Copyright © 2003 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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