Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Joseph Kukta, age 45 of Laurel, Delaware, to 42 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for interstate transportation of stolen goods and tax evasion, in connection with his theft and resale of merchandise being shipped through a commercial mail service. Judge Blake has also ordered Kukta to pay $1,101,743.91 in restitution and forfeiture of $1,880,000.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell J. Waldon of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore.
According to his plea agreement, from 2007 through July 2019, Kukta worked as a Senior Manager at the FedEx facility located in Seaford, Delaware where he oversaw all operational aspects of the facility, supervised over 100 employees and contractors, and earned an annual salary of more than $92,000. The facility handled all the FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery packages passing through the Delmarva Peninsula.
Kukta admitted that he stole packages shipped via FedEx and resold the items to co-defendant Saurabh Chawla, at approximately 50% of the item’s retail price from 2009 to June 2019. Kukta then transported the stolen items, using his vehicles and trailers, to a relative of Chawla who resided in Maryland. From about 2009 to 2019, Kukta received more than $1,880,000 in illegal proceeds for selling stolen goods that were worth at least $3,250,000.
As detailed in his plea agreement, Kukta stole packages that contained bulk retail goods and merchandise shipped by suppliers including Apple and other high-end manufactured products intended for delivery to a Walmart Distribution Center in Smyrna, Delaware. Beginning in 2012, Kukta’s theft of packages became frequent and consistent, occurring on a weekly basis in certain months. Kukta identified packages he would steal by accessing FedEx computer systems and reviewing packages that had been loaded onto a FedEx trailer awaiting delivery to the Walmart Distribution Center. Kukta selected specific packages which he believed, based on the shippers of the packages, contained high-end electronics or other merchandise of value that could be easily resold.
In 2018, Kukta began to also steal packages from FedEx trailers that were loaded for delivery to a retail Store in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Kukta went to the FedEx facility on Sundays, holidays, or other times when employees were not at the facility, and removed the packages he previously identified from the FedEx trailers. Kukta attempted to avoid detection by turning off the lights at the facility and blocking certain surveillance cameras with cardboard boxes and other objects. Kukta loaded the stolen packages into his truck or into vehicles operated by FedEx contractors and parked at the facility, then drove the vehicles to his rented storage unit in Seaford, where he unloaded and stored the items.
As stated in his plea agreement, on June 5, 2019, Kukta learned that law enforcement had subpoenaed surveillance footage from the FedEx facility in Seaford. Approximately two weeks later, Kukta went to the storage unit and retrieved the remaining stolen items. Kukta sold that merchandise at an auction house in Lincoln, Delaware.
Kukta also admitted that he evaded paying income taxes on the proceeds of the scheme by failing to report that income on his annual joint federal income tax returns, causing a tax loss to the United States totaling $660,439. To conceal the income, Kukta provided false information to two banks when they questioned why he was receiving money from Company A (which was controlled by Chawla). As to each bank, Kukta falsely told bank representatives that he had been selling items from his father’s estate, which he knew was false. Kukta also provided false information to the IRS during a correspondence audit, claiming that the items he had sold on eBay during 2014 were from his father’s estate, not the sale of stolen goods.
Co-conspirator Saurabh Chawla, age 36, of Aurora, Colorado, was previously sentenced to 66 months in federal prison for federal charges of conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen goods, and tax evasion. Chawla was also ordered to pay restitution to the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of $713,619, and ordered to forfeit a 2013 Tesla Model S and $2,308,062.61 from accounts held in his name and the sale of property in Aurora, Colorado.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron praised the IRS-CI and HSI for their work in the investigation. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Harry M. Gruber and Paul A. Riley, who prosecuted the case.
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