Stole Merchandise from Retail Stores and Exchanged the Stolen Items for Gift Cards
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III sentenced Steven Riley, age 50, of Baltimore, today to two years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering. Judge Russell also entered an order requiring Riley to pay restitution of $400,000.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and Special Agent in Charge Brian Murphy of the United States Secret Service - Baltimore Field Office.
According to his plea agreement, from January 2009 to February 2013, Riley, Melissa Perry, Deanna Lynch, Mohamed Al-Omeri, Mark Brunelle, and others, were “boosters.” A “booster” is a person who steals for a living, then sells the stolen items to someone else, usually for a discounted price. Boosters often work in groups, as in this case.
Riley and others stole merchandise from large retail stores throughout Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Howard and Harford Counties in Maryland, as well as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Riley and the other boosters then returned the stolen items in exchange for store gift cards. They used modified Maryland driver’s licenses that contained the personal identifier information of actual persons, without those persons’ knowledge, when returning the stolen items without a receipt. Sometimes the boosters paid neighborhood drug addicts to borrow their licenses for theft/return sprees, for which they paid the addicts between $20 and $25. From January 2011 until April 2012, Riley made 185 fraudulent returns to Home Depot stores in Maryland, causing an actual loss of $37,033.51. These were transactions during which Riley used a modified version of his actual Maryland driver’s license and does not account for fraudulent returns that were executed using “borrowed” driver’s licenses.
Co-conspirator John Tadros owned Busy Bees Convenience Mart located at 335 South Monroe Street, and J&J’s Bar and Liquor located at 1801 Ramsay Street, both in Baltimore. Tadros bought the fraudulently obtained gift cards from the boosters for 50% of the card’s value. Tadros told the boosters to target specific stores at specific locations, and advised them of the best days to steal merchandise and the manner by which they modified their Maryland driver’s licenses. Tadros also collected the welfare benefit debit cards of some of the boosters which he held as collateral if he deemed that the boosters owed him money, and returned the benefit cards to the boosters for 50% of the card’s value. Tadros used the gift cards to purchase personal home goods, and supplies for his businesses and rental properties.
On February 27, 2013, the U.S. Secret Service executed a search warrant and seized 32 fraudulently obtained gift cards from Tadros’ home. Agents also seized 329 retail store receipts from Busy Bee, for purchases made with fraudulently obtained gift cards.
The actual loss to retailers in Maryland caused by the scheme is at least $401,326.12.
John Tadros, age 45, of Baltimore, Melissa Perry, age 34; Deanna Lynch, age 44; Mohamed Al-Omeri, age 39; and Mark Brunelle, age 47, previously pleaded guilty to their participation in the scheme. Tadros was sentenced to 58 months in prison and ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution. Brunelle was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay over $210,000 in restitution. Perry and Lynch were sentenced to 30 months and 18 months in prison, respectively, and were ordered to pay restitution of $401,326.12. Al-Omeri was sentence to one year of probation and ordered to pay restitution of $35,000.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the U.S. Secret Service - Baltimore Field Office for its work in the investigation, and commended the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office for its assistance. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Mark W. Crooks, who prosecuted the case.