Houston Man Charged in Large-Scale Interstate Transportation of Stolen Goods Operation
HOUSTON—Wassim Hassan Elsaleh aka Sam Saleh has been charged in a conspiracy to traffic in the interstate transportation of stolen goods, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Elsalah, 36, is a legal permanent resident from Lebanon who resides in Houston.
The six-count superceding indictment was returned under seal Nov. 19, 2014, and unsealed today upon his arrest. He made his initial appearance today and is set for a counsel determination hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.
The indictment alleges Elsaleh is a “fence” in the Houston area that receives stolen merchandise from “boosters” and sells to various businesses. A “booster” is a criminal who steals goods and merchandise not for personal use but for re-sale to a “fence” for a fraction of its retail value. A “fence” is a person who receives stolen goods and merchandise from “boosters” and others. The “fence” then allegedly re-sells the stolen goods and merchandise to third parties for a profit. The goods often include, but are not limited to, over-the-counter medication (OTC) and infant formulas from retail stores. OTC is medicine that does not require a prescription and includes non-prescription personal hygiene products that can be readily sold in a secondary market as well as items such as Prilosec, Zantac, Claritin, and Mucinex.
The charges allege that boosters would steal OTC and infant formulas from pharmacies and retail stores, such as Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, HEB and Kroger, among others. According to the indictment, one or more conspirators would buy stolen merchandise from several traveling booster crews that usually consisted of undocumented aliens from Mexico, Central and South America and then attempt to profit from their sale of stolen merchandise to others. Boosters were allegedly paid in cash in order to aid in concealing the nature of the alleged criminal activity. The indictment alleges the conspiracy ran from on or about April 10, 2012, through May 31, 2014.
Elsaleh was the owner and registered agent of Payless Wholesale and Discount Wholesale L.L.C., and Titanium Trading L.L.C., respectively located at 3612 Mangum#106 and 2121 Brittmoore Road #1800 in Houston, according to the indictment. Elsaleh allegedly used the Mangum and Brittmoore locations as the warehouses for storing, repackaging and shipping the stolen goods received from the boosters.
Once Elsaleh received the OTC and stolen infant formula, co-conspirators would remove the retailers’ security labels markings and stickers to disguise the true origin of the infant formulas so it would be easier to sell and more profitable for the business, according to the charges. When the merchandise was received at the warehouses, Elsaleh would allegedly direct employees to sort, repackage and ship stolen infant formulas out-of-state wholesalers. Elsaleh allegedly sold the merchandise to co-conspirators and direct the payment to be made via wire transfer to bank accounts.
The indictment further charges that If discovered by law enforcement, Elsaleh would shut down the current working warehouse, and re-open the warehouse at another location. On Feb. 14, 2013, Payless Wholesale shut down operations and Titanium Trading later opened in December 2013, according to the allegations.
If convicted of the conspiracy, Elsalah faces up to five years in federal prison, while each underlying count carries a possible 10 years upon conviction. All charges could also result in a possible maximum $250,000 fine.
This matter was investigated by the FBI, Houston Police Department-Major Offenders Division and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office with the cooperation of CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Mead Johnson and Abbott Nutrition. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Suzanne Elmilady and Joe Magliolo.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.