CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–November 21, 2010. Following a joint investigation by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Chicago Police Department, with assistance from major retailers, two suburban men have been charged with operating a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise out of their north side distribution warehouse, purchasing and reselling stolen merchandise for profit in a major fencing operation, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced today.
Ajay Patel, 36, of Glenview and Vijay Patel, 37, of Lincolnwood, are each charged with Theft and Money Laundering, both Class 1 felony offenses. The defendants own and operate Advance Distributors, located at 4949 N. Pulaski in Chicago, which is registered with the City of Chicago as a wholesale importer of general merchandise, with a website where business owners and consumers can purchase products on-line.
The investigation was conducted by law enforcement in cooperation with several private sector retailers including Target, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens as a part of the newly created Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Regional Organized Crime Task Force formed this past summer to combat the growing crime of organized retail theft and fencing.
According to prosecutors, the investigation revealed that the defendants were operating a criminal enterprise by purchasing and reselling stolen merchandise for profit. Through this scheme, the defendants would purchase large quantities of stolen merchandise for a small percentage of their actual worth, and then remove the security tags or identification labels and repackage the merchandise for sale. In some cases, the defendants are alleged to have altered or removed expiration dates on products, including over-the-counter medicines.
The investigation included six recorded meetings in August 2010 through November 2010 between the defendants and undercover investigators in which the defendants brokered deals to exchange and sell stolen merchandise. Both defendants were captured on video tape admitting that they knew the products were stolen. During the first five undercover sales, the defendants paid a total of $3,850 for consumer products with an actual retail value of nearly $14,500. Those products included Tide laundry detergent, Head and Shoulders Shampoo and Monster Energy Drink.
On November 16, both defendants were arrested after they purchased merchandise in a “buy bust,” with undercover officers. Investigators drove a semi-truck filled with merchandise that had been provided by cooperating retailers. The truck contained more than $100,000 worth of products including laundry detergent, batteries and razors which were packaged in boxes with the “Target” brand label. The defendants purchased the entire contents of the truck from undercover officers for $22,000.
As a part of the investigation, authorities obtained search warrants which were executed at various locations, including the suburban homes of the defendants and the Advance warehouse. Investigators recovered more than $4.5 million in cash, some of it in duffle bags, suitcases and bank safety boxes.
State’s Attorney Alvarez applauded the efforts of the investigators from the State’s Attorney’s office and Chicago Police Department, and said she is eager to continue the partnership. Alvarez pointed out that organized retail theft and fencing has a direct impact on consumers on many levels, including driving up consumer prices and presenting potential danger to consumer health and safety. She noted that the crime also causes an extensive loss of much-needed sales tax revenues in the county and the state. It is currently estimated that Illinois loses $77 million in tax revenues each year as a result of organized retail theft and fencing.
“This investigation marks the beginning of a new and unique partnership in Cook County with the creation of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Regional Organized Task Force,” Alvarez said.
“We will be working together to increase the prosecution of large-scale organized retail theft and fencing as well as sharing all of our resources and intelligence to prevent this crime. And those that will receive the greatest benefits will be the consumers of Cook County who take a direct hit to their pocketbooks as a result of these crimes.”
The task force, which will include representatives from law enforcement and the retail industry from all over the Cook County region, will conduct quarterly investigative meetings that will bring law enforcement and retailers together in a working group to discuss investigations, ongoing issues of concern and potential legislative initiatives, according to Alvarez.
In addition, with private sector funding from retail partners, the task force this month launched a website that will provide law enforcement and retailers with an important resource to share information and prevent organized retail theft across the Cook County region. The website will provide for the current reporting of organized retail crime by providing retail members with the opportunity to input information from crimes occurring in their stores. The information will then be used to create mapping patterns and to identify fencing operations for potential investigations.
Ajay Patel and Vijay Patel both appeared for a bond hearing on Thursday, where Cook County Judge Maria Kuriakos-Ciesil set bail at $150,000 each. The next court date for this case is November 19, 2010 at the Criminal Courts Building, 26th and California at 11am.
The public is reminded that criminal charging documents contain allegations that are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.