March 1, 2018
By James O’Malley
Staff at two Bucks County pawn shops and more than two dozen “professional” thieves face conspiracy charges in alleged large-scale theft ring.
One owner of two Bucks County pawn shops, four of his employees and 27 “professional retail thieves” have been charged as part of an alleged large-scale theft ring the attorney general says preyed on people with addictions to turn a profit.
The state Office of Attorney General on Thursday alleged 35-year-old Michael Stein’s pawn shops Quick Cash Trading Post, in Middletown, and Morrisville Loan & Pawn Shop, in Falls, purchased for resale some $689,000 in merchandise stolen from chain retail stores.
Stein and his employees Victor Kline Jr., Lyle Lazar Boden, Joshua Fedalen and Brian Ernest Jancia dealt directly with the 27 accused of the thefts between January 2014 and October 2017, says a grand jury presentment, paying 30 percent or 40 percent of the items’ retail value and then selling the items for a profit online.
Known within the conspiracy as “boosters,” each of the theft suspects stole from stores on an almost-daily basis to support addictions to heroin and opioids, according to the grand jury.
The presentment says the broader investigation continues probing a larger ring of five stores “operating nominally as pawn shops” in Bucks, Philadelphia and Delaware counties.
“We are not done,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference Thursday morning at the Falls municipal building, adding the investigation is ongoing and remains “very active.” He declined to comment when asked if more arrests were imminent.
Shapiro said Stein’s operation preyed on the drug addictions of the boosters, who he described as “professional retail thieves.” The 27 suspects have been charged with counts of retail theft and conspiracy.
“It doesn’t excuse their criminal behavior, but we’re working very hard to get them into treatment,” Shapiro said.
Stein, of Middletown, was arraigned before District Judge Jan Vislosky on counts of corrupt organizations, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, receiving stolen property and conspiracy. He was released on 10 percent of $50,000 bail.
His attorney Ryan Becker urged reporters after the arraignment to “look at the charges.”
“He’s not accused of stealing anything,” he said. “He’s only accused of not knowing the people he was dealing with had stolen these things.”
Kline, 46, of Philadelphia; Boden, 29, of Philadelphia; Fedalen, 26, of Sharon Hill, Delaware County, and Jancia, 28, of Holmes, Delaware County, all were arraigned Thursday on counts of corrupt organizations, receiving stolen property and conspiracy. Each was released on $50,000 unsecured bail.
Operating for years under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – if the seller didn’t say an item was stolen, the store purchased items without question — Klein and his employees routinely purchased various new, still-boxed items, including kitchen appliances, computer equipment and vacuum cleaners, prosecutors say.
In addition to purchasing items from people who previously had admitted committing retail thefts, the employees in many cases suggested the alleged thieves return the stolen item to the store for a gift card, which the pawn shops then purchased for 50 percent of face value, the grand jury presentment says.
The two pawn shops over time allegedly purchased nearly 5,000 items from “boosters,” paying them some $290,000 for the stolen items, according to prosecutors. The stores profited from resale to the tune of more than $470,000.
Investigators began looking into the alleged theft ring in April 2015 after loss prevention agents, noticing an increase in thefts and tracking stolen products to pawn shops including Stein’s, approached police in Falls, the presentment says.
Falls police used an informant to sell purportedly stolen goods and reviewed pawned items in the online database “LeadsOnline,” the grand jury says. Both Falls and Bristol Township require pawn shops to use the private database to track items. As the investigation expanded, police reached out to county detectives and later to the Office of Attorney General.
Reached Thursday, District Attorney Matthew Weintraub applauded the charges as the result of a collaborative effort.
“We’re very happy with the arrests and to be able to shut down this corrupt organization,” he said, noting that county detectives remain involved with the investigation. “This is certainly something that’s on our radar at present and in the future.”