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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Texas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, October 21, 2016

Houston Man Sentenced in Large-Scale Interstate Transportation of Stolen Goods Operation

HOUSTON – A 37-year-old legal permanent resident from Lebanon who resides in Houston has been ordered to federal prison following his conviction of conspiracy to traffic in the interstate transportation of stolen goods, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Wassim Hassan Elsaleh aka Sam Saleh pleaded guilty Feb. 11, 2016.

Today, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ordered him to serve 24 months in federal prison and must pay a $10,000 fine. Others charged in relation to the case have all also pleaded guilty and were sentenced previously.

Elsaleh was a “fence” in the Houston area that received stolen merchandise from “boosters” and sold to various businesses. A booster is a criminal who steals goods and merchandise not for personal use but for re-sale to a fence for a fraction of its retail value, while a fence is a person who receives stolen goods and merchandise from boosters and others. The fence then re-sells the stolen goods and merchandise to third parties for a profit. The goods often include, but are not limited to, over-the-counter medication (OTC) and infant formulas from retail stores. OTC is medicine that does not require a prescription and includes non-prescription personal hygiene products that can be readily sold in a secondary market as well as items such as Prilosec, Zantac, Claritin and Mucinex.

The conspiracy ran from on or about April 10, 2012, through May 31, 2014. During this time, the boosters would steal OTC and infant formulas from pharmacies and retail stores, such as Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, HEB and Kroger, among others. One or more conspirators would buy the stolen merchandise from several traveling booster crews that usually consisted of undocumented aliens from Mexico, Central and South America and then attempt to profit from their sale of stolen merchandise to others. Boosters were paid in cash in order to aid in concealing the nature of the alleged criminal activity.

Elsaleh was the owner and registered agent of Payless Wholesale and Discount Wholesale LLC and Titanium Trading LLC, respectively located at 3612 Mangum#106 and 2121 Brittmoore Road #1800 in Houston. Elsaleh used the Mangum and Brittmoore locations as the warehouses for storing, repackaging and shipping the stolen goods received from the boosters. 

Once Elsaleh received the OTC and stolen infant formula, co-conspirators would remove the retailers’ security labels markings and stickers to disguise the true origin of the infant formulas so it would be easier to sell and more profitable for the business. When the merchandise was received at the warehouses, Elsaleh directed employees to sort, repackage and ship stolen infant formulas out-of-state wholesalers. Elsaleh sold the merchandise to co-conspirators and directed the payment to be made via wire transfer to bank accounts. 

If discovered by law enforcement, Elsaleh would shut down the current working warehouse and re-open it at another location. On Feb. 14, 2013, Payless Wholesale shut down operations and Titanium Trading later opened in December 2013.  

The FBI, Houston Police Department-Major Offenders Division and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation with the cooperation of CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Mead Johnson and Abbott Nutrition. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Suzanne Elmilady and Joe Magliolo prosecuted the case.

Updated October 21, 2016