Store owner sent to prison for organizing theft ring

February 05, 2000|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A Southwest Baltimore grocery store owner was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison yesterday for leading a roving pack of thieves who shoplifted more than $4 million in merchandise from department stores around the country.

Albert Eugene Roberts, 37, was the head of an organized interstate ring that sent teams of experienced shoplifters into Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target stores to steal health and beauty aids, federal prosecutors said. Some of the merchandise was later sold for bargain prices at Marge & Gene's, his South Monroe Street store.

Roberts told the FBI that he sold the bulk of the stolen items, ranging from pregnancy test kits to aspirin, to Russian businessmen in New York, according to a statement of facts presented in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The scheme ran from May 1996 to July 1999.

The thieves, or "boosters," who worked for the ring were mostly Baltimore heroin addicts trained by Roberts on how to steal, according to a statement presented in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bonnie S. Greenberg. Once trained, boosters were sent to department stores in other states, including Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Boosters typically stole the items by loading them on to shopping carts in the store and walking out with cash and a fake receipt in their hands, as if they had just passed through a cashier station, according to an FBI affidavit.

Another method was to toss merchandise over the fence of the outdoor garden section of the store to a waiting accomplice, the affidavit said.

As part of a plea agreement, Roberts agreed to forfeit his house and his grocery store to the federal government, prosecutors said.

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