Saturday 28 January 2023
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Feds: Pawn Shops Scheme Fed Opioid Epidemic

Patti Singer

Five men were arrested in two federal complaints alleging multi-million dollar schemes at two Rochester pawn shops that federal authorities said capitalized on the vulnerabilities of people addicted to opiates.

Thomas Nary, 35, of Rochester, Eric Finnefrock, 27, of Rochester, Ralph Swain, 30 of Farmington, Devin Tribunella, 35, of Rochester, and Wade Shadders, 22, of Rochester, are charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, selling and conspiring to sell stolen goods across state lines, and engaging in financial transactions involving the proceeds. The defendants allegedly bought and resold stolen merchandise.

James P. Kennedy Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, announced the arrests Nov. 21.

According to the complaints, Nary owns and operates Rochester Pawn & Gold (RPG),  1440 Dewey Ave. RPG has one of the highest volumes of purchases and sales of any pawnshop in Monroe County. Finnefrock has been an employee of RPG since April 2015. Swain has been an employee since March 2018. 

The complaints also state that Tribunella owns and operates Royal Crown Pawn & Jewelry (Royal Crown), 3635 Dewey Ave. Like RPG, Royal Crown has one of the highest volumes of purchases and sales of any pawnshop in Monroe County. Shadders has been an employee since April 2019. 

According to the complaints, the defendants allegedly recruited individuals who struggle with addiction and who use the proceeds of their “sales” of stolen merchandise to purchase illegal drugs. The defendants would identify items they were interested in having stolen based on what was in high demand or selling at a high profit on eBay. The defendants purchased numerous new-in-box items from the same individuals multiple times per week, sometimes multiple times a day. The defendants typically bought the stolen merchandise for approximately 30% of its retail value.

Authorities contend that the cash provided to the individuals has contributed to the opioid epidemic in Monroe County. According the U.S. Attorney’s office, 542 of the 930 people who overdosed in the county in 2018 had a history of selling stolen merchandise. Through Sept. 24, of the 522 individuals who overdosed in Monroe County so far this year, 228 have a history of selling to pawnshops. During 2018 and 2019, there were 15 recorded instances of individuals selling merchandise to RPG and Royal Crown within five days of overdosing. Three of those overdoses were fatal.

The complaints state that the addicted individuals stole from Rochester-area retail stores, including CVS, Wegmans, Walmart, Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Circuit City, Target, Walmart and Home Depot. The defendants are alleged to have knowingly purchased stolen, new-in-box goods from these individuals. The complaint alleges that the defendants made false and fraudulent representations in an online database known as LeadsOnline as well as in their User Agreements with eBay and Amazon. The defendants would re-sell the stolen goods on eBay and Amazon and ship them to buyers, some outside the state. 

The U.S. Attorney’s office said the cycle of theft and re-sale has resulted in Monroe County having some of the highest incidents of retail theft in the country, according to statistics maintained by nationwide retailers.

Between Jan. 1, 2015, and Aug. 14, 2019, defendants Nary, Finnefrock, and Swain are accused of purchasing and re-selling at least $12.4 million worth of stolen goods on eBay and Amazon at RPG. 

In addition, between Jan. 1, 2017, and Sept. 16, 2019, defendants Tribunella and Shadders are accused of purchasing and re-selling $3.2 million in stolen goods on eBay. 

“While the link between property crimes and drug addiction has long been recognized, this prosecution demonstrates an undeniable link between the property crimes from which these defendants’ profited and overdose deaths in our community,” Kennedy said in a news release. “The conduct of RPG and Royal Crown was egregious. …”