WRAL Investigates

Judge rejects plea deal for unlicensed locksmiths

Posted June 29, 2010 5:17 p.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2010 7:11 p.m. EDT

— A Wake County judge on Tuesday rejected plea agreements for two men accused of working as unlicensed locksmiths.

The operators of A1A Locksmiths were charged in February with using unlicensed people to perform locksmith services in Wake, Durham and Guilford counties.

The case was brought by the North Carolina Locksmith Licensing Board, which hired a private investigator to document cases where unlicensed locksmiths gouged customers.

The probe followed a WRAL News hidden-camera investigation a year ago that showed how unlicensed locksmith businesses use deceptive tactics to run up the price on consumers. One woman saw a $35 fee to get into her house quickly balloon to more than $400.

The investigation prompted a flood of complaints to state Attorney General Roy Cooper's office. Cooper then filed suit against three companies, which each operate under numerous names, in an effort to shut them down.

Attorney Patrick Roberts, who represents A1A Locksmiths, said the company shouldn't be confused with the subject of the WRAL News investigation.

"This is not that organization. They're not engaged in that activity, although someone needs to be the fall guy, and this organization seems to be at the forefront right now," Roberts said.

Roberts and prosecutors had worked out a plea deal to allow the three owners of A1A to plead guilty to misdemeanor offenses of operating the business without a license.

District Judge Jennifer Knox rejected the deals for Dan Eisner and his brother-in-law, Roi Gershon, when she learned they could remain in business after pleading guilty.

"I cannot accept this plea," Knox said, setting the men's trial for August.

The judge did accept the plea of Netta Eisner, Gershon's wife, who agreed to divest her ownership of the business.

The Locksmith Licensing Board cannot prevent A1A from operating without a conviction against its owners, so the company remains in business at least until August.

"If someone isn't licensed with us, it's very hard for anybody to do anything about it," board Chairman Kevin Seymour said. "Our hope is that people do business the right way."

Officials urge consumers who call locksmiths for help to verify the business address of the company and ask the person who shows up to display his or her North Carolina locksmith license. Most legitimate locksmiths also use marked vehicles and wear uniforms, officials said.