September 27, 2017 / 9:40 PM / a year ago

A leader of retail crime ring pleads guilty, New York says

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A leader of a theft ring that stole more than $12 million of electronics and ink cartridges from big-box retailers and resold them on websites such as Amazon and eBay has pleaded guilty to involvement in the scheme, New York’s attorney general said.

George Athanasatos, of Brooklyn, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges of attempted enterprise corruption, money laundering and possession of stolen property, attorney general Eric Schneiderman said.

Athanasatos faces 3-1/2 to seven years in prison, and will also forfeit $439,205.

Twelve people had been indicted in March for their alleged involvement in the ring, following a 10-month probe known as “Operation Sticky Fingers.”

Seven have pleaded guilty, following pleas on Wednesday by Joseph Pooler, of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and Robert Scarano, of Las Vegas, to enterprise corruption charges, Schneiderman said. Both also face prison time.

“These guilty pleas, and the forfeiture of hundreds of thousands of dollars, mark a major victory in what was one of the largest-ever busts of a retail theft ring,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

“Retail theft is not a victimless crime,” he added. “Ultimately, consumers pay higher prices while the perpetrators of these schemes cash in.”

Investigators said the scheme involved thefts from Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples and other retailers across 28 U.S. states.

The attorney general said Athanasatos, known as the “Field Marshall,” admitted to managing three of the four “theft crews” that delivered stolen goods to the Manhattan apartment of the other alleged ringleader, Richard Rimbaugh, known as “The General.”

Athanasatos, who reported to Rimbaugh, also provided gear and equipment to help crew members carry large quantities of goods and evade store security, the attorney general said.

Joseph Mure, a lawyer for Athanasatos, said in an interview: “He isn’t totally happy with the time he needs to do, but he wants to put this past him and go on with his life.”

Adam Freedman, a lawyer for Pooler, said his client was remorseful and wanted to take responsibility for his actions.

Lawyers for Scarano and Rimbaugh did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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