Alabama Political Reporter
Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged two Shelby County residents with conspiring to operate a large-scale pawn shop fencing ring.
U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Michael Williams announced that the federal government has charged Steve Randall Scott, 59, of Shelby County and Puerto Rico, and Sarah Vickers, also known as Sarah Elizabeth Cahill and Sarah Vickers Morrow, 39, of Shelby County, with one count of conspiring to transport stolen goods across state lines.
Both Scott and Vickers have agreed to plead guilty and signed plea agreements. They must appear before a judge to formally enter guilty pleas.
“These defendants encouraged thieves to bring stolen retail merchandise to their pawn shops to fuel an illicit online business where they sold as much as $1.5 million in stolen goods. Thanks to the outstanding work of the Secret Service, our partners at the Jefferson County District Attorneys’ Office and local law enforcement, we have been able to shut down a widespread fencing operation in our district. This exemplifies the successes in partnerships,” Town said in a statement.
“This case highlights the excellent work the Secret Service Financial Crimes Task Force is conducting,” Williams said. “This task force is a strong force-multiplier of Birmingham metro area law enforcement that fights financial crimes affecting our community.”
According to Scott’s and Vickers’ plea agreements, Scott, personally and through his relatives and corporations, owned and operated multiple check-cashing, check advance, title loan and traditional pawn businesses in the Birmingham metro area operating under the names Cashmax, Check Exchange, Cash 101, Cash Plus and Scott’s Jewelry and Pawn. Scott employed Vickers to operate the Cashmax, Check Exchange, Cash 101 and Cash Plus locations.
According to the plea agreement, in 2015, Scott, Vickers and others agreed to start taking in items from shoplifters. Vickers and other employees of Scott encouraged shoplifters to bring them new, in-box items from national retailers including Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens and Home Depot. The stolen items included power tools, graphing calculators, Fitbit activity trackers, vacuum cleaners, designer purses and electric toothbrushes. Vickers and other Scott employees accepted the stolen goods, paid the shoplifters a portion of their value, resold the items for a profit on Amazon and eBay and mailed them to locations across the United States.
On Oct. 14, 2016, the Secret Service Financial Crimes Task Force, working in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, raided 12 of the Scott locations and arrested 16 people, including Scott and Vickers. The task force recovered two tractor-trailers’ worth of stolen goods. There were more than 5,000 items that had a value of at least $500,000. Mr. Scott and Ms. Vickers acknowledge in their plea agreements that they sold at least another $500,000 in stolen items via eBay and Amazon. The total loss to area retailers from their scheme is estimated at being between $550,000 and $1.5 million.
Mr. Scott already has forfeited much of the proceeds of the scheme and is no longer operating the businesses. Scott and Vickers will face up to five years in prison and fines up to $250,000.
The Secret Service Financial Crimes Task Force is composed of investigators from the Secret Service, the Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, Birmingham, Homewood and Alabaster police departments and prosecutors from the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. eBay also assisted in the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Erica Williamson Barnes, Robin Beardsley Mark and Nicole Grosnoff are prosecuting the case.
Retail theft, or “shrink”- a loss of inventory due to factors such as shoplifting, employee or supplier fraud and organized retail crime cost retailers an estimated $112 billion a year worldwide.
In a study of shrink, among major countries, the highest shrink rates were recorded in Brazil and Mexico at 1.6 percent of overall retail sales, followed closely by the U.S. and China at 1.5 percent.