New York City is getting serious about cracking down on retail crime.
On Thursday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York Attorney General Letitia James revealed the indictment of 41 people in a retail crime ring that allegedly stole luxury apparel as well as drug store items and then resold them on eBay.
The arrests came after a three-year joint investigation by the New York City Police Department’s Grand Larceny Division and the Office of the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, which resulted in the seizure of more than $3.8 million worth of stolen goods from the alleged ringleader, Roni Rubinov, along with more than 550 stolen gift and cash cards and more than $300,000 in cash.
The defendants are being charged with various counts of enterprise corruption, money laundering, criminal possession of stolen property, scheme to defraud and conspiracy.
“Today we are showing that New York City will not tolerate crime — street crime, retail crime or organized crime,” Adams said. “Public safety is the prerequisite to prosperity, and so we want to be clear that we will investigate, arrest and prosecute criminals when they break the law. This wasn’t just shoplifting, but people going into stores and clearing off shelves as part of an organized crime ring. This massive retail-theft scheme affected every level of our economy, from department stores to big chains to independent businesses — all of whom were already impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
James added: “Today’s takedown of this massive retail theft operation is part of our continued efforts to combat crime and restore an environment where all New Yorkers feel secure. These individuals stole millions of dollars in luxury goods and cleared the shelves of the drug stores in the communities we live and resold these goods for great profit. We will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to crackdown on crime and protect all our communities.”
Among the seized items were designer clothing, handbags, belts and shoes as well as cosmetics. The gift cards that were recovered were from more than 60 merchants including Amazon, Home Depot, Walgreens, Visa, Apple iTunes, Modell’s, Lowe’s, Kmart, American Express and Pottery Barn.
The NYPD and the OAG used electronic and physical surveillance, analysis of financial records, and other investigative tools to discover that since 2017, Rubinov, Yuriy Khodzhandiyev and Rafik Israilov, his alleged managers, have been directing career larcenists to steal specific merchandise and gift cards from retailers. Rubinov and his managers then purchased the stolen goods for fractions of the retail price and resold them for profit on an eBay store called Treasure-Deals-USA, the departments allege.
The larcenists brought stolen property to Rubinov’s New Liberty Loans Pawn Shop at 67 West 47th Street and to Romanov Gold Buyers Inc. at 71 West 47th Street, where several of his employees purchased the stolen clothing for 6 to 8 percent of their retail value and the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics for $1 to $2 per item, depending upon the brand. Rubinov regularly provided his employees with cash to pay for the stolen property and promote the ongoing procurement of stolen property, the groups said.
Once the stolen property was purchased, it was stored at one of the locations in Midtown Manhattan before being transported to Rubinov’s residence or stash house, both located in Fresh Meadows, N.Y., where it was inventoried before being resold. In December of 2019, Rubinov signed a lease for a large warehouse space located in Fresh Meadows where he planned to open a “department store”-like facility stocked with stolen property, the city said.
The NYPD and OCTF allege that Rubinov washed the illicit proceeds from the sale of stolen property through his PayPal account and subsequently through one of his bank accounts, thereby successfully concealing the proceeds from the sale of the stolen property.
“This criminal enterprise allegedly operated as a shadow e-commerce business, utilizing boosters to procure stolen merchandise which they then sold to unsuspecting buyers on eBay under the guise of Rubinov’s legitimate businesses,” said acting Homeland Security Investigations New York Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel. “This complex and well-organized operation funneled their ill-gotten proceeds through numerous businesses in an effort to evade detection by law enforcement.”
The defendants, who were indicted in New York Supreme Court on Thursday, each face up to eight years and four months to 25 years in prison.
City officials thanked ORC teams at Macy’s, CVS, Rite-Aid and Lowe’s for their assistance during the investigation. A CVS spokeswoman said Thursday, “We’re committed to partnering with law enforcement and other retailers to address the issue of organized retail crime and are deeply appreciative of the work done by the New York attorney general’s office and the NYPD on this case.”
These aren’t the only recent incidents of substantial organized retail theft in the Northeast that have led to seizures. As reported, a 24-year-old Windsor, Conn., man, Jahlil Parrott, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for his part in “Operation American Steal,” a multiagency investigation into multiple grab-and-go thefts at fashion stores in the Northeast. The term refers to incidents where several perpetrators enter a store, take as many articles of clothing and merchandise that they can carry, exit the store without paying and leave in a waiting getaway vehicle.
Parrott, who is also known as “Stretch,” was part of a network that committed more than 50 grab-and-go thefts in 2019 and 2020. The thieves struck outposts for Polo Ralph Lauren, T.J. Maxx, Balenciaga, Burberry, Macy’s, Marshalls, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Tommy Hilfiger, Sephora and other retailers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. They then transported the stolen merchandise to Connecticut and sold the items on the internet and on the street. The impacted retailers faced combined losses of more than $100,000 during the scheme, according to Avery’s office.
The sentencing brings to light an issue that has been impacting retailers for several years. Organized retail crime thefts cost retailers an average of $720,000 for every $1 billion in sales as of 2020, representing an increase from $450,000 five years prior, according to the National Retail Foundation. Executives at the NRF were unavailable Thursday to comment about the $3.8 million seizure of goods in New York, or the organization’s view of the need for prosecution in organized retail theft.
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