WRAL Investigates

Judge drops Web host from locksmith suit

Posted June 4, 2009

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— A Superior Court judge on Thursday removed a defendant from a state lawsuit seeking to shut down deceptive locksmith operations.

Defense Attorney Chris Graebe successfully argued that Anna Konevsky was merely hosted Web sites and isn't the mastermind behind the locksmith scheme.

Drilled door lock, locksmith investigation Defendant argues way out of locksmith suit

A WRAL News hidden-camera investigation in April showed tactics used by the nationwide operation, from phony Internet ads designed to divert customers from legitimate businesses to out-of-state call centers promising low service fees to desperate people locked out of their homes.

Once the operation dispatches its crews posing as locksmiths, however, the price for the service quickly escalates, the WRAL News investigation showed.

Following the investigation, a number of victims of the scheme filed complaints with the state Consumer Protection Division, and the Attorney General's Office filed suit to drive the operation from North Carolina.

The suit named Charlotte residents Konevsky and Tamir Avraham, along with 704 Locksmith Inc., NC Charlotte Locksmith Inc., Locksmith Service Inc., all of which operate under multiple names.

"What happened to that lady in the WRAL report was horrible, but that has nothing to do with Anna Konevsky," Graebe said. "It's the person placing the advertising and doing the wrong who is the villain."

Judge Howard Manning agreed and dropped her from the suit. But he said the state's lawyers could depose her to get the names of her clients.

Konevsky no longer does business with the locksmith companies, Graebe said.

Legitimate locksmiths attended the court hearing hoping for a resolution to a scheme that has left them frustrated.

"It is a game and has been a game of Whack-a-Mole. We get this brush fire out, and we get another one," said Barden Culbreth, executive director of the state Locksmith Licensing Board. "If there's this underground operation, we need to be on top of it at all times."

Officials said consumers can best protect themselves by hiring a locksmith with a confirmed local address, a marked vehicle and a visible North Carolina locksmith license.

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