Brothers sent to prison for operating $13M multi-state stolen goods enterprise
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas
HOUSTON – Two naturalized U.S. citizens from Lebanon residing in Houston have been sentenced for their roles in large scale organized retail crime schemes, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.
Yasser Saleh Ouwad, 52, and his brother - Bilal Saleh Awad, 50, entered their guilty pleas Oct. 12, 2021 and Oct. 30, 2019, respectively, to conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise.
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane has now ordered Ouwad to serve 41 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. In addition to his prison term, he was ordered to forfeit over $260,000 from bank accounts representing the proceeds of the sale of the stolen merchandise. He must also pay a money judgment entered against him in the amount of $4,665,860 and restitution of $109,742 due to CVS Health and Walgreens.
“The shifting predominance to online retailers drives the market for stolen goods at the expense of consumer safety and legitimate merchants,” said Hamdani. “Stolen over the counter medications and health products are often sold for a fraction of the retail price online but can be expired or subject to tampering. These schemes cause millions of dollars in losses to U.S. retailers by hiking up prices and creating an unsafe e-commerce market for consumers.”
“The transnational criminal organization these two brothers led was responsible for the theft of more than $30 million in retail goods,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “Organized retail crime on this scale results in consumers having to pay higher prices and can force businesses to close that provide essential goods and services to the community. HSI Houston will continue to work tirelessly alongside our law enforcement partners to dismantle these organized theft groups and restore order to our communities.”
“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protects consumers and patients by ensuring the medical products they use, whether they are by prescription or over-the-counter, are safe and effective. Selling stolen medical products puts all consumers’ health at risk,” said Special Agent in Charge Charles L. Grinstead, FDA - Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) Kansas City Field Office. “We will continue to work to protect the health of U.S. consumers and patients.”
From June 2015 to March 2018, Ouwad and Awad engaged in high-level fencing operations involving multi-million-dollar, multi-state level criminal organizations. The brothers purchased stolen over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, diabetic test strips and health and beauty supplies for re-packaging and shipping.
This criminal enterprise also employed “boosters,” primarily undocumented aliens from Central America, to steal OTC medication from large retailers around the United States. Boosters would then ship the stolen products back to Ouwad and Awad, who resold the stolen merchandise to third parties for a profit.
Ouwad owned and operated GPS Wholesale Inc. which he ran from his warehouse in Houston where he would receive the stolen products. Ouwad and his associates would then remove anti-theft stickers and security labels, re-package them into pallets and ship the merchandise to wholesale companies in the New Jersey area.
Awad ran a similar operation but would receive stolen merchandise at a CubeSmart Self Storage location in Houston. Awad also removed anti-theft labels and re-packaged the stolen OTC merchandise at his residence before shipping the product to a wholesale company in New York.
Ouwad and Awads’ criminal enterprises resulted in over $13 million in losses to retailers between both charged schemes.
Awad was previously sentenced on Sept. 5 by U.S. District Judge David Hittner to 41 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Additionally, he was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $322,550 to CVS Health and Walgreens. Awad also had a money judgment of $4,426,942 entered against him representing the illegal proceeds he received during the conspiracy. Awad must also forfeit a bank account with a balance of more than $460,000 and over $6,000 in stolen products law enforcement seized. In handing down the sentence, Judge Hittner noted that Awad managed a sophisticated scheme causing the loss of millions to retailers.
Several co-defendants had also pleaded guilty and have received sentences ranging from 18-40 months.
Ouwad and Awad were permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
HSI and FDA – OCI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Heather Winter and Richard Hanes prosecuted the case.
Updated November 16, 2023