6 sentenced in multi-million dollar stolen goods case

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by CAMERON STEELE / The Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on January 24, 2013 at 9:05 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Six members of an organized retail crime ring will serve time in prison for selling and distributing more than $16 million in stolen over-the-counter, health and beauty aid products, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.

Four people were sentenced Thursday and another two received prison sentences in October as a result of “Operation Cash Back,” a multi-agency investigation into the buying and selling of the stolen pharmaceutical products, authorities said.

The investigation began in September 2010. The prison sentences for those involved range from 18 to 86 months and include an order to pay more than $4,000,000 in restitution. U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. also ordered the forfeiture of more than $17,000 in cash, 20 vehicles, two real-estate properties and a forfeiture money judgment of $7 million.

The six defendants in the case each pleaded guilty in June 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property.

Court documents show that from 2006 to March 2011, the retail crime ring bought then sold over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements and beauty aid products at prices far below retail and wholesale prices of the stolen goods. The stolen items came from various pharmacies and retail stores across North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, authorities said.

The defendants are: Bonnie Knight Bridges, 63, and Kimberley Bridges Morris, 37, both of Bessemer City, Michael David Morris, 40, of Charlotte, Darlene Bridges Schoener, 39, and William Christopher Schoener, 33, of Kings Mountain, and Darryl Keith Brock, 45, of Cowpens, S.C.

Bridges, Kimberley Morris, Michael Morris, Darlene Schoener and William Schoener also all pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion conspiracy.

Bridges is the mother Kimberley Morris, who is married to Michael Morris, and of Darlene Schoener, who is married to William Schoener.

Organized retail theft begins with individuals, known as “boosters,” who shoplift popular products from the shelves of stores, authorities said. The boosters then sell the shoplifted items at prices well below retail and wholesale value to people know as “first-level fences.”

The first-level fences serve as middlemen between the boosters and “second-level fences” who distribute the stolen goods to people who distribute the stolen products back into the retail market, authorities said.

The Bridges family members served as the first-level fences in the operation, according to court records and court hearings. The Bridges paid cash to boosters when purchasing the stolen products and were, in turn, paid in cash by their second-level fences for the items, court records show.

Kimberley Morris and Darlene Schoener were sentenced Thursday to serve 18 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Michael Morris was sentenced to 84 months in prison and two years of supervised release. William Schoener will spend 86 months in prison and two years on supervised released.

Bridges was sentenced in October to serve 70 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release. The judge also ordered her to pay $4,035,636 in restitution. Darryl Brock was also sentenced in October; he’ll serve 20 months in prison and will have to pay $2,128,059 in restitution.

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