SOMERSET — Five Pulaski County convenience stores sold items stolen from major retailers, including Kroger and Kmart, according to grand jury indictments.
People associated with the convenience stores encouraged shoplifters to bring them stolen items to re-sell, the indictments said.
Ten people with ties to five stores are charged with engaging in organized retail crime.
At one convenience store, police found items with labels from Kroger, CVS, Dollar General and Kmart, according to an inventory in the court file.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney David L. Dalton said authorities haven't calculated the value of the merchandise that was allegedly stolen, but that it was a considerable amount.
The investigation is continuing, Dalton said.
The 10 charged so far were owners or managers of the stores, said Larry Patterson, a Somerset police detective who investigated.
Some of the defendants also are charged with soliciting people to steal items, buying beer from unauthorized people or committing fraud involving electronic food-stamp cards.
Patterson said in search-warrant affidavits that during the past two years, local police received several complaints from retailers that smaller convenience stores were buying stolen items to re-sell.
Gary Jones, a retired Somerset detective working as a loss-prevention officer at Kroger, told police that several shoplifters he had detained told him they were stealing to sell to local convenience stores, according to Patterson's statement.
Jones said shoplifters told him the stores paid them about half the face value of the items, so the local stores could then mark them up and sell then, Patterson said.
The shoplifters also said the stores were taking part in food-stamp fraud, according to Patterson's affidavit.
For instance, employees at some small convenience stores allegedly swiped benefits cards to indicate a purchase had been made when one hadn't, with the store paying the card holder cash equal to half the transaction amount and keeping the rest, according to information Jones provided to Patterson from shoplifters.
Police used undercover informants to take items to convenience stores and represent them as stolen goods to see whether the stores would buy them.
Employees at five stores bought Pepsi and Coke products and beer they thought were stolen, Patterson said.
In some cases, store employees gave the suspected shoplifters a list of items they wanted them to acquire and bring to them to re-sell, according to Patterson's affidavit.
Those charged in the case are Dashrathbhai A. Patel; Ravindrakumar L. Patel; Anjaliben Patel; Alakeben P. Patel; Ritaben V. Patel; A.J. Patel; Varsha Patel; Jathabhai K. Patel; Vivekkumar J. Patel; and Malik Mayouf.
Defense attorneys for several of the defendants did not return phone messages Wednesday.
Dalton emphasized that the defendants are presumed innocent until proven otherwise.