Aug. 05--EVANSVILLE -- Nineteen people have been charged in connection with what local prosecutors are calling a "retail theft ring" that is accused of stealing millions of dollars in goods from area retailers.
The Evansville Police Department, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office, the Indiana State Police, Vanderburgh and Warrick County Sheriff's Offices. and the FBI worked together over the past eight months to investigate a string of retail thefts from local merchants, including several at Eastland Mall in Evansville. A news release from the Vanderburgh Prosecutor's Office said 16 stores were victimized.
Items stolen included: designer purses and clothing, power tools, televisions and other expensive electronics, athletic apparel, expensive vacuum cleaners and other high-end items.
Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann said in a news conference Tuesday that 15 people will be charged with corrupt business influence, a felony. He said officials do not know yet the exact amount stolen.
"Anytime you have a situation like this, where people are ordering up goods to be stolen and brought in, this logically leads to a variety of crimes. Everything from shoplifting, to theft, to robbery, burglary, breaking into cars," Hermann said. "We think that this is going to have a large impact on our area as a whole."
Charged in the case are: Jeremy Ford, Kyle Philpott, Patrick Walsh, Kyle Jones, Dane Joseph Reiter, Lane Avery, Hilary Arney, Zachary Williams, Jourdan Baird, Eric Stucker, Robert Savage, Caleb Meeler, Lauren Wallace, Stephani Spain and Angela Bevins.
Philpott, Walsh, Reiter, Ford and Avery are also charged with a criminal gang enhancement in the case.
Two individuals, Michael J. Rupert and Kyle Hudson, are federally charged with conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen goods. Rupert was also charged with interstate transportation of stolen goods. Officials began booking those arrested at the Vanderburgh County Jail on Tuesday afternoon.
The theft ring used the online auction site eBay.com and DealMakers, a business that buys and resells goods, to move the stolen merchandise. DealMakers is located in Newburgh, Indiana, with a second store in Henderson, Kentucky. Rupert manages and operates DealMakers. Hudson operates Kyle's Cell Phone Accessories and iPhone Repair.
Hermann said authorities searched both Newburgh and Henderson properties, as well as several homes Tuesday morning as part of the investigation.
WATCH the full press conference
U.S. District Attorney Matthew Brookman said Rupert and Hudson were the "principal operators" in the interstate fencing of the stolen property.
"This is all expensive stuff, we're not talking about a stick of chewing gum from the convenience store," Brookman said. "The investigation is ongoing."
Evansville police began the investigation earlier this year, after working with Eastland Mall officers to connect a string of thefts to a man who worked in the mall, Kyle Jones.
"With the cooperation of Jones, the investigation continued and the co-conspirators were uncovered," the news release stated.
Hermann said from 2012 to 2013, retail thefts in the area have risen, reporting $3 to $4 million in stolen merchandise.
The investigation also led to narcotics charges against Mario Butler, and charges of burglary against a juvenile. Those involved in the retail ring could serve anywhere from two to 16 years in prison, depending on their charges.
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