The FBI is investigating a possible pawn shop theft ring involving Amazon delivery drivers and thousands of packages containing stolen merchandize sent across the country.
The years-long organized theft ring generated more than $10 million, the FBI claims in a July search warrant recently unsealed. News of the warrant was first reported by the Associated Press.
Two Washington state pawn shops allegedly bought products from shoplifters who “primarily steal from brick-and-mortar retail stores,” including Home Depot, Lowes, Fred Meyer, the document says.
The thieves also paid cash for stolen property from delivery drivers, who stole from Amazon.com and from drug addicts and users, FBI agent Ariana Kroshinsky alleges in the search warrant granted by a judge in the Western District of Washington.
The stolen items were then believed to have been stored in Kent, Washington or in Amazon fulfillment centers elsewhere in the country.
“The value of property involved in this case has reached well into the millions of dollars since this criminal activity began,” Kroshinsky said. The criminal activity started in about 2012, she said.
Law enforcement watched the pawn shops over several weeks in mid-2018, using surveillance and pole cameras.
No charges have been filed in this case, and because of that, Scripps is not using the names of the pawn shops or the suspects.
Among the items thought to have been stolen and offered for resale are box electronics, gaming systems, computer products, tools, kitchenware, sporting goods and sewing machines, Auburn police discovered. The police department first started the investigation.
Later the FBI discovered other stolen items included vitamin and health supplements, over-the-counter medication, makeup, perfume, pet supplies, sports equipment, car products and clothing.
Some of the items were stolen by a man, who moved Amazon customer returns from the main airport near Seattle. The items stolen by one person were estimated to be worth about $100,000.
Investigators discovered some people were frequently selling items to the pawn shops thought to be involved in the crimes. One person pawned items 16 times in a one-month period.
At one point, undercover investigators went into one of the pawn shops in Auburn.
“They noticed the lobby areas of the store has no shelves and there was no merchandise displayed for sale to the public,” the search warrant request read. It did not appear the shop “was selling anything from the store, but instead was purchasing products from people coming into the store and then sending the products elsewhere.”
Investigators watched, at one point, two transient men pawn brand-new canisters of Similac baby formula.
“The detectives found it odd that two apparently transient men would have several brand-new canisters of baby formula, and that a pawn shop would be interested in buying these items,” Kroshinsky wrote.
Agents said the online accounts believe to be linked to the pawn shop has items for sale on Amazon.com in fulfillment centers in Fort Worth, Texas, Baltimore, Maryland, Robbinsville, New Jersey, San Bernardino, California and Middletown, Delaware.
An investigator from the United States Postal Inspection Service determined 10,071 parcels of mail had been mailed from the Kent area to addresses in the United States in a less than two-month period ending June 21, 2019.