Miami-Fort Lauderdale area mover held household goods hostage. Now, prison will hold him

A mover who ran companies out of Miami-Dade and Broward extorted money from customers once they began the move and sometimes stole their goods.

For playing with people’s lives and possessions, Avraham Zano will pay with money ($334,499 in forfeiture, $2,877,497.35 in restitution) and time (an eight-year sentence) after he was sentenced Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale federal court.

Zano pleaded guilty to wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen property and failure to give up possession of household goods.

Zano, 36, has been in Broward County Jail’s Joseph Conte Facility on a U.S. Marshals hold since Aug. 3. He will spend his sentence in a federal prison facility.

In a victim impact statement, Mighican resident Deborah Scott told the court that after her sister died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Zano’s movers stole 45 paintings — “My sister started painting when when she was 16!! Her art, she said, was her soul” — and irreplaceable possessions of her sister instead of moving them to Michigan.

Michael Parker said one of his sports and entertainment promoter father’s favorite stories was of a go-kart race involving them and three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart. Parker said his father won the race by spinning his son out on the last lap. The VHS and CD with videos of that day, Parker said, were in boxes stolen by Zano.

“Since all of my possessions and tangible memories of my father were never delivered to me the only things I have from him are the memories of his decline in health,” Parker said. “I know that I will never receive the monetary value of my items that were stolen (estimated $77,350). I will never receive any of the pictures of myself and father over the years.”

Zano is the second person sentenced in the scam. One of the drivers who helped Zano, North Miami Beach’s Sofein Mlayah, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years.

READ MORE: Fort Lauderdale moving company was a serial scammer, feds say

Moving and abandonment issues

Zano’s admission of facts with his guilty plea says neither he, Mlayah nor Zano Moving & Storage are authorized by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a U.S. Department of Transportation division, to move household goods across state lines.

That didn’t prevent moving brokers from using Zano. His guilty plea says after a moving broker gave an estimate to potential customers, the broker “sub-contracted the household goods moving job to Zano Moving & Storage or another company owned and operated by Zano.”

State records say Zano operated Zano Moving & Storage out of a Hollywood house and Chicago Movers out of Aventura’s Eldorado Towers

Once they got the moving job, Zano’s drivers and sometimes Zano himself would show up at the house “often on a date other than the originally scheduled moving date, and, sometimes, late in the evening, and loaded the household goods into a truck under the pretense of providing moving services.”

With some or all of the customer’s possession on the truck, the extortion would start. Zano’s movers would tell customers they had more stuff than the estimate. They would then readjust that estimate, sometimes tripling it, knowing customers didn’t want to lose deposits or start the whole mover search process over, especially with items on the truck.

“Ultimately, the victims agreed, under duress, on a price that was lower than the increased price but much higher than the original estimate provided by the moving broker,” Zano’s guilty plea admits. Then they “demanded that the victims pay at least 50% of the higher fee at the time their property was being loaded onto the moving truck, and elicited promises from the victims that the victims would pay the remaining balance upon delivery of their household goods.”

That delivery often never happened. And to milk customers painfully to the last drop, sometimes the moving people demanded partial payments for things such as “storage fees.”

The indictment describes Zano’s scheme in action

According to the indictment, Mlayah showed up at C.M.’s Wyoming home on Oct. 27, 2021, to start a move to Kansas. But before the truck could roll, Mlayah told C.M. that paying the previous estimate, $2,991, wouldn’t move his goods. Zano sent a new estimate of $6,106.

C.M. made out a $2,604 check to Mlayah. C.M.’s furniture and possessions should have been in Kansas by Nov. 10, 2021. Into December, the indictment says, Zano blamed weather for the delay.

The indictment says C.M.’s goods were found later in an “abandoned storage facility in Arizona.”

FBI Miami and the U.S. Department of Transportation-Office of the Inspector General investigated this case with help from Sunny Isles Beach police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Anton handled the prosecution, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Stone is handling asset forfeiture.

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