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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. sentenced six members of an organized retail crime ring that sold and distributed over $16 million in stolen over-the-counter (“OTC”) products, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
Today’s sentencings of four co-defendants and the sentencings in October 2012 of two co-defendants are the result of “Operation Cash Back,” a multi-agency investigation that began in September 2010 into the buying and selling of stolen OTC and health and beauty aid (HBA) products. The prison sentences imposed on the six defendants range from 18 to 86 months’ imprisonment and include an order of restitution totaling $4,035,626. Judge Cogburn also ordered forfeiture of over $17,000 in cash, 20 motor vehicles, two real estate properties and a forfeiture money judgment of $7 million.
U.S. Attorney Tompkins is joined in making today’s announcement by Russell F. Nelson, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Charlotte Field Division; Jeannine A. Hammett, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI); Chief James W. Buie of Gaston County Police Department; and Chief Stacy Conley, of the Gastonia Police Department.
In June 2011, a total of six defendants were charged with and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property. The defendants are, Bonnie Knight Bridges, 63, and Kimberley Bridges Morris, 37, both of Bessemer City, N.C.; Michael David Morris, 40, of Charlotte; Darlene Bridges Schoener, 39, and William Christopher Schoener, 33, both of Kings Mountain, N.C.; and Darryl Keith Brock, 45, of Cowpens, S.C. Bonnie Bridges, Kimberley and Michael Morris, and Darlene and William Schoener were also charged with and pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion conspiracy. Bonnie Bridges is the mother of Kimberley Bridges Morris, who is married to Michael David Morris, and of Darlene Bridges Schoener, who is married to William Schoener.
Today, Judge Cogburn sentenced Kimberley Morris and Darlene Schoener to serve 18 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Michael Morris was sentenced to 84 months in prison and two years of supervised release. William Schoener was sentenced to 86 months in prison and two years of supervised release. The defendants also were ordered to pay $4,035,636 in restitution.
Judge Cogburn sentenced Bonnie Bridges on October 19, 2012, to serve 70 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release, and ordered her to pay $4,035,636 in restitution. Judge Cogburn sentenced Darryl Keith Brock on October 30, 2012, to serve 20 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $2,128,059.
According to filed court documents and court proceedings, the defendants had participated in what is known as Organized Retail Crime (“ORC”) and Organized Retail Theft (“ORT”), an annual multi-billion crime affecting retail merchants. Court documents show that from 2006 to March 2011, the defendants engaged in a scheme whereby they bought and then sold stolen over-the-counter products, including medications and dietary supplements, and health and beauty aid products.
According to court records and court hearings, organized retail theft begins with individuals, known as “boosters,” who shoplift popular OTC and HBA products from the shelves of various pharmacy and retail stores. In this case, the “boosters” stole OTC and HBA products from stores in North Carolina, South Carolina West Virginia, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. The “boosters” then sold the shoplifted goods far below retail and wholes prices to first-level “fences.” First-level fences in turn serve as middlemen between the “boosters” who steal the OTC and HBA products from retail merchant stores and second-level fences who further distribute the stolen goods to a higher-level fence or distributor, who then distribute the stolen products back into the retail marketplace.
According to court records and court hearings, the Bridges’ family members served as first-level fences who purchased stolen OTC and HBA products from “boosters.” The Bridges family members then sold the stolen OTC and HBA products to second-tier fences at prices far below the retail and wholesale prices of the stolen goods. Organized retail theft crime is a cash-only business, and the Bridges paid cash to “boosters” when purchasing the stolen OTC and HBA products, and were paid in cash by their second-tier fences for the stolen OTC and HBA products.
According to court records and court hearings, OTC and HBA goods stolen by “boosters” had to be “cleaned” of retail store security labels, tags, stickers, and pricing labels before they could be re-introduced through the various levels of fences into the retail marketplace. Cleaning stolen OTC and HBA products of genuine retail store security and pricing labels is a task performed by both first-level and second-level fences before reaching higher-level product distribution channels. The amount of stolen property involved in the Bridges case from 2006 to 2011 exceeded $16 million.
“The Congressional Research Service issued a report in December of 2012 that estimated the annual economic loss to businesses and consumers from Organized Retail Crime is between of $15 billion to $37 billion. The cooperative effort of the law enforcement agencies involved in this case was instrumental in breaking up this extensive conspiracy that plagued a wide range of retail businesses,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins. “Retail theft means that consumers end up paying higher prices for goods sold by businesses impacted by those thefts. My office will continue to go after professional theft rings that engage in this form of organized retail crime.”
“The hard work and diligence of these investigators has paid off as they rooted out and followed the trail of this multi-million dollar theft scheme,” stated Special Agent in Charge Jeannine A. Hammett, IRS CI. “We should not expect the honest taxpayers to foot the bill for those who attempt to hide income from the IRS.
Bonnie Bridges has commenced serving her prison sentence. Michael Morris and William Schoener have been in custody since late 2011. Darryl Brock, Kimberly Bridges and Darlene Schoener will self-report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility. All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.
The investigation was handled by USSS, IRS-CI, the Gaston County Police Department and the Gastonia Police Department. This prosecution is handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Tom O’Malley and William Brafford of the Western District of North Carolina.