BUCKS COUNTY, Pa. (WTXF) - Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced criminal charges against multiple people in an alleged theft ring.
Pawn shop owner Michael Stein was tight-lipped as he left court Thursday with his attorney, charged in a wide-sweeping conspiracy to re-sell merchandise stolen from big box stores and retailers across the region. Authorities say the scheme netted nearly $500,000.
"In a nutshell, this is a case about greed," Attorney General Josh Shapiro told reporters at an early morning press conference.
Stein and four others were charged with participating in a corrupt organization after state and local investigators uncovered the multi-county scheme in which so called 'boosters' would steal new items still in their boxes from stores like Home Depot, Walmart, Target, CVS and Giant.
"Things like Ninja Blenders to computer hard drives.The boosters stole kitchen faucets and blenders and vacuums cleaners," Shapiro explained.
Authorities say 27 boosters who were charged brought 5,000 stolen items to pawn shops allegedly controlled by Stein. Investigators say they got paid a third of the value for the items . The stolen merchandise would then be taken to a warehouse and offered for sale online, according to authorities. Investigators say it was called 'Operation Booster Club'.
"Mr. Stein is not accused of stealing property—not accused of directing anyone to steal property. It's just he should have known the items coming in were stolen. We'll certainly have a lot to say as the trial approaches," Stein's lawyer, Ryan Becker, told FOX 29.
State investigators say the so called 'boosters' were professional retail thieves who were opioid dependent many times using the money to feed their habits.
"Stein and his employees profited off the addiction of others," Shapiro added.
Four months ago, FOX 29 was there when the state attorney general's office raided pawn shops across the area, including several in Delaware County. They also seized items from a warehouse.
"At the end of the day, who pays for all of this? The consumers in Pennsylvania pay for it because the price of their products has gone up," Shapiro said.
The attorney general say heroin and opioids claim 15 lives every day in Pennsylvania. In Bucks County, there were 168 fatal overdoses last year—that's a 43 percent increase. Shapiro says schemes like this only fuel the use of opioids. A state investigating grand jury is continuing the investigation. More arrests and more charges are expected.