Nicholas Lakes and Viacheslav Berkovich used home computers, multiple cell phones, dozens of aliases and a web of false companies to cheat hundreds of victims in the trucking industry out of millions of dollars. And they did it for years before they were finally caught.
The indictment charging them with computer, wire and mail fraud details a scheme running from January 2007 through September 2008, but there is evidence to indicate they may have been active as early as 2005.
Both men are Russian immigrants believed to have arrived in Southern California in the 1990s. Lakes was also known as Dmitry Nadezhdin or Dmitry Livshits.
Using a host of aliases, the duo not only registered fake motor carrier and brokerage names with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, but also hacked into its Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System using credit card numbers to alter the records of legitimate businesses, inserting their own contact information.
The false corporate names they used included Barkfelt Transportation and Cargoland Brokerage on the broker side, and Burbank Express, Vega Trucking and Union Express on the carrier side. Lakes also ran other companies that assisted with the scam, including a factoring company, Burbank Capital, according to an affidavit filed by DOT investigator Efferem Poynter.
The amount scammed was often less than $5,000. In one case, a company named Service Transport posted a load on Internet Truckstop that “Dagos Trucking” agreed to haul for $3,300. The scammers then reposted the load on Getloaded.com as “Cargoland,” and a company named CGL Trans Express agreed to haul it for $3,900.
Fortunately, CGL checked the MC Number listed for Cargoland and found it belonged to another carrier. It contacted Service Transport, which paid CGL the $3,300, but not Lakes and Berkovich. Other carriers weren’t so lucky, but the use of multiple aliases and post office boxes made it hard for them to locate the culprits.
The plan unraveled as more carriers and brokers realized they had been deceived and reported the fraud to the load-matching services and the Department of Transportation’s inspector general. The DOT OIG launched an inspection in 2007 that led to the arrest and conviction of Lakes and Berkovich.
Once they’ve served their time in federal prison — six years and four years, respectively — they’ll be deported. “If we had more people like Nicholas Lakes who are prosecuted and put in jail, it would be a deterrence,” said Robert A. Voltmann, president and CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association. But this type of scam is “like a balloon,” he said. “Squeeze the air at one end, and it moves to the other.”