Keene thefts linked to online marketplace in NJ
CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — A traffic stop on Route 9 last September has resulted in federal stolen property charges for a Connecticut man, who allegedly sold the stolen merchandise to an online marketplace in New Jersey.
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire, on Sept. 13, a vehicle being operated in a hazardous manner was pulled over by New Hampshire State Police. As a result, James Falk, 37, of Preston, Conn., was arrested on a charge of driving while under the influence of drugs.
After Falk's arrest, Sgt. William DiLegge and Trooper Zachary Bernier of Troop C conducted an initial inventory of the contents of Falk's vehicle "to document and protect the integrity of Falk's belongings ..."
During the inventory, the troopers found a partially open Keurig coffee pot box, which was later identified as a makeshift Faraday Box. According to an affidavit filed by Trooper First Class Michael Anger, a Faraday Box is used to prevent or interrupt radio frequency signals, such as those assigned to security devices attached to high-value retail items.
The troopers also discovered a file folder container in the front seat which was full of receipts from various stores and "a loose, powder-like substance on the inner part of the plastic," three straws with the same powder-like substance inside of them and five bindles "of what appeared to be heroin/fentanyl, one of which was open and had possibly spilled out."
Upon discovery of the suspected illicit drugs and the probable presence of "high-value items ... suspected to be stolen property," troopers discontinued the inventory and applied for a search warrant.
According to the affidavit, a Faraday Box also known as a Booster Box, allows a thief to place a stolen item within the box and perform a "Run Out/Walk Out" from a store without the security alarm sensors' receiving the signal from the stolen items within the box. "[T]he presence of a retailer's security device on multiple items within one's possession is often indicative of a theft or receipt of stolen merchandise," wrote Anger.
Before securing the vehicle, troopers saw three, brand-new Nest Home Thermostats with the retailer's security device still around each of the boxes.
Once a search warrant was received, troopers inventoried the contents of the vehicle, which included the drugs, the thermostats, smart home lighting systems, Ring Alarm home security systems, Moen and Delta sink faucets, MyQ garage door openers, Phillips Sonic Care toothbrushes, power adapters, a GeoForce gaming console, a JBL bluetooth speaker, and Dewalt and Rigid power tools with battery packs.
"The approximate retail value of the merchandise seized from Falk's vehicle was $5,771.77 dollars," wrote Anger. "All of the items were brand new in sealed boxes and many of them had the retailers' security devices still attached to them, some with the alarm lights still illuminated and blinking."
While Falk's mobile phone was being logged into evidence, it received several text messages, including "Why were you pulled over?" and "You were not doing anything illegal other than maybe going a little over 50."
"Based on the message alerts on Falk's iPhone, it appeared that Falk may have been traveling with someone else who saw him get pulled over ..." wrote Anger.
A warrant to search Falk's mobile phone was granted and a data extraction revealed Falk had searched for information on booster boxes and had been in regular contact with Conery Alan Morse, 32, of Wilbraham, Mass.
"The majority of said messages contained content about store locations, merchandise and other content indicative of criminal activity ..." wrote Anger.
The messages included a discussion about stores in Keene, including Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, Kohl's, Dick's and Target.
According to the affidavit filed by Anger, he suspected Falk and Morse of committing the offense of conspiracy to transport stolen goods. No federal charges have yet been filed against Morse, but he was arrested in New Britain, Conn., in November and cited with illegal possession of a weapon in a motor vehicle.
As part of the investigation, troopers visited the Keene Home Depot on Sept. 16 where they learned employees had observed "two suspicious male subjects [who] were likely stealing items from the store, but the duo left the store before staff could approach them," stated the affidavit.
State Police received surveillance images from the Keene Home Depot that showed Falk and Morse checking out on Sept. 13 with a 24-inch vanity box, "presumably filled with the Dewalt and Rigid power tools and accessories that were recovered from Falk's vehicle."
State Police also obtained surveillance video from the Keene Kohl's Department Store, also taken on Sept. 13, that showed Falk and Morse entering and leaving the store with "a large rectangular bin, which appeared to be metal ..." wrote Anger.
Some of the stolen items were later returned for cash at a Home Depot in Smithfield, R.I., by Morse, wrote Anger.
Troopers also discovered communications between Falk and a Longmeadow, Mass., woman identified as JP.
"On or about August 30, 2018, Falk, Morse and JP joined in on a group chat during which Morse seemed to vouch for JP and bring her into the theft conspiracy," wrote Anger.
"In addition to the thefts at Kohl's and Home Depot in Keene, N.H., I learned that Falk, Morse and JP had engaged in other retail thefts, many of which had not been officially investigated and/or charged," he wrote.
According to the affidavit, suspected thefts occurred at a Kohl's in Enfield and Groton, in Connecticut, a Target in Windsor, Conn., a Target in West Springfield, Mass.
In addition to contacts with Morse and JP, wrote Anger, Falk also communicated with a mobile phone assigned to "RK" in Elizabeth, N.J. "An open source search, via Facebook, produced a Facebook profile of RK from Omsk, Russia," wrote Anger. "The profile indicates that RK is currently living in Brooklyn, N.Y., which RK had explained to Falk in their communications."
An analysis of the communication indicates Falk was sending merchandise to RK, who in turn sent Falk money, wrote Anger.
"Falk, nearly daily, would send RK a list of merchandise descriptions and UPC codes," he wrote. "RK would then reply to the list with a purchase price offer."
From Aug. 6 through Sept. 18, 2018, wrote Anger, more than $20,000 in stolen merchandise was sent by Falk to RK, for which RK sent 60 to 70 percent of the retail value back to Falk.
Further investigation led to a company known as Elgeo.com, located in Maplewood, N.J., an online marketplace that sells various electronics, home goods and toys. According to the affidavit, "numerous FedEx shipping receipts stored by Falk" on his mobile phone listed the delivery address as the same address listed for Elgeo. "I noted that Elgeo, sometimes identified as LGeoo or eLGeo, sells smaller high end electronics such as Nest Thermostats, Nest IQ Cameras, JBL Speakers, Apple products, as well as, kitchen and/or bath faucets," wrote Agner. "Some of the items I viewed for sale by Elgeo were the same, or similar, products as the merchandise seized from Falk's vehicle."
Messages between Falk and RK included RK stating "I don't know how you get this stuf:) and I don't ask you about it" and "I think fbi can read our messages."
The investigation is ongoing and further charges are expected.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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