A federal grand jury indicted a former Denver business man this month on 30 counts of charges related to an organized retail theft scheme involving the transportation of millions of dollars
in stolen non-prescription drugs and other goods from state-to-state, according to the United States Attorney’s Office in North Carolina’s Western district. Steve Hale, 64, of Catawba County, was arrested
Wednesday in connection with a three-year-long investigation entitled “Operation Cash Back,” an agency press release said. While the jury returned the indictment on Oct. 17, documents remained sealed until Thursday, federal offi cials said. Hale appeared in court Thursday in Charlotte, where a federal judge ordered him to electronic monitoring at home and to keep away from any job related to the wholesale goods business, the release said.
Since September 2010, federal law enforcement officers have been looking into the buying and selling of stolen goods, including over-the-counter medications and health and beauty products, in Lincoln, Gaston and Mecklenburg Counties, federal officials said.
The illegal activity took place from 2006 to 2011.
Six other defendants have since been charged and sentenced in the effort.
Hale, who previously owned Double D Distributing, LLC, in Denver, served as a second-level “fence” in the operation, federal officials said.
His role as a “fence” required that he provide lower-level, or first-level “fences,” with a list of stolen items to buy from professional shoplifters, also known as “boosters,” the release said.
The indictment alleged that Hale specifically gave one of the other six defendants, Bonnie Bridges, a list of items to purchase along with what prices he wanted to pay for each good, federal officials said.
Additional individuals who purchased stolen items from “boosters” for Hale, and who delivered them to his eastern Lincoln County business, included Kimberly and Michael Morris, Darlene and William Schoener and Darryl Brock.
Hale gave each of the first-level fences cash payments for their role in the scheme but would only accept goods that had no damage and long-term expirations, allowing him to remove products’ stickers and re-sell them at discounted prices to his own customers, some of whom lived out of state, federal documents alleged.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the stolen items were shipped to the Denver warehouse in garbage bags, plastics containers and boxes.
Not only is Hale additionally accused of failure to provide gross receipts totaling much higher income amounts than he documented on tax returns from 2006 to 2008, but federal officials said he also did not accurately collect and account for the taxes on one of his employee’s total annual earnings from 2007 to 2010.
Specific indictments against Hale include one count of conspiracy to transport stolen goods in interstate commerce, which maintains a five-year maximum prison sentence; three counts of false statements on income tax returns, which maintains a three-year maximum prison term per count; 12 counts of interstate transportation of stolen property, which carries a maximum prison term of a decade per count; and 14 counts of failure to collect, truthfully account for and pay quarterly federal income taxes and Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) taxes for a former employee.
The final charge carries a weight of up to 5 years in prison per count, the release said.
In addition, Hale could be fined up to $3.5 million for failure to collect, account for and pay taxes on one of his employees, federal officials said, since each of the charge’s 14 counts carries a $250,000 fine.
The government also plans to pursue a forfeiture money judgment of more than $8 million in the case — an amount which covers the total financial value of stolen goods, cash and other property involved in the operation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The United States Secret Service, Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division, Gastonia Police Department and Gaston County Police Department jointly investigated the case, prosecuted by Asst. U.S. Attorneys Tom O’Malley and Ben Bain-Creed, of the agency’s N.C. Western district office.