The sophisticated organized crime operation stole its merchandise from the shelves of Staples, Best Buy, Office Max and even pet stores, then sold it online for near-retail prices, authorities said. The multi-state network had been active for 20 years, and took in more than $12 million since 2012.
On Wednesday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the indictment of 12 people in what he called a two-decade criminal operation.
Called "Operation Sticky Fingers," the 10-month investigation was led by the Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force, with assistance from the New York State Police.
"This brazen ring of criminals methodically stole millions from stores across 28 states — resulting in one of the largest-ever busts of a retail theft ring," Schneiderman said during the early afternoon press conference in his office in Lower Manhattan.
The charges include enterprise corruption, money laundering, criminal possession of stolen property and conspiracy. If convicted, each defendant could face up to 25 years in prison.
The crime ring’s hierarchy was modeled off of the military, the attorney general said, and the operations were run like a corporation, with detailed records of the crews’ success. It even required expense forms.
Authorities say the operation was run by Richard Rimbaugh of Manhattan, known as “The General,” who fenced millions of dollars worth of merchandise that his crews had stolen.
Rimbaugh, 64, was arrested Monday night in his Upper West Side apartment, which Schneiderman said was “floor to ceiling full of merchandise.” Authorities seized $7.7 million from the homes and accounts of the dozen people arrested, in addition to 5,300 pieces of allegedly stolen merchandise.
UPS delivered five boxes of stolen goods while investigators were at the apartment, authorities said.
Rimbaugh’s crews, managed by “Field Marshal” George Athanasantos, 62, of Brooklyn, would go on missions to Staples, Best Buy, Office Max and pet stores. There, they would swipe Bose headphones, expensive calculators and fancy flea collars. They would send Rimbaugh the stolen items, authorities said. He would then sell the merchandise online for near-retail prices from his company, which he called American Media Soft.
The teams were outfitted in specially designed vests that could conceal the merchandise they stole, and equipped with security-evading and disabling devices they called “kryptonite.” Printed on the back of the vests were nicknames such as "Nipplehead", "Princess" and "Baby Arm Johnson.”
The crews could make off with $45,000 worth of goods in a single haul, authorities said. And they moved from state to state to avoid detection.