‘Operation Sticky Fingers’ busts massive theft ring

Elmont, Long Beach men among those arrested by attorney general


Twelve alleged members of a criminal theft and fencing ring — including one from Elmont and one from Long Beach — were arrested and charged last week with stealing millions of dollars worth of goods and selling them online for more than two decades, according to State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

It is among the largest busts of a retail-theft ring in the nation’s history, spanning 28 states, including New York.

A 41-count indictment, unsealed in New York Supreme Court on March 15, charged the 12 alleged co-conspirators with enterprise corruption, money laundering, criminal possession of stolen property and conspiracy. If convicted, each faces eight to 25 years in prison.

Many of those charged were from New York City. Among the suspects were also Kevin Cerrato, 22, of Elmont, and Roger Ringhiser, also known as “Captain Rog,” 53, of Long Beach.

An Elmont woman, Anna Candanedo, 32,  and one of the men in the ring are also under indictment on welfare fraud charges, Schneiderman said.

“Operation Sticky Fingers” was a 10-month investigation conducted by the Schneiderman’s Organized Crime Task Force, with support from the State Police. Law enforcement officers seized more than 5,300 stolen electronics and ink cartridges from the enterprise’s alleged kingpin, Richard Rimbaugh; the enterprise’s alleged theft crew manager, George Athanasatos; and various alleged members of the theft crews.

 Additionally, investigators seized more than $7.7 million from the suspects’ homes, financial institutions, and Amazon and PayPal merchant accounts.

Through electronic and physical surveillance, as well as analysis of financial records, the attorney general’s investigation found that Rimbaugh had directed theft crews in reselling stolen merchandise for more than 20 years. The crews were charged with stealing millions of dollars in merchandise, including electronic goods and printer cartridges from Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy and other retailers across country.

 Since 2012 alone, the ring had sold more than $12 million of stolen goods via Amazon and eBay. Since March 15, both their Amazon and eBay sites, as well as American Media Soft, an online business that Athanasatos had set up, have been shut down.

 “Retail theft is becoming increasingly organized, with crime rings preying on businesses and creating a vicious cycle that ultimately harms consumers when the costs are passed on in the form of higher prices,” Schneiderman said. “But these thieves are now on notice: We won’t hesitate to pursue retail theft and prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law.”

According to the attorney general, Rimbaugh, known to members of the enterprise as the “General,” instructed several theft crews to steal specific printer ink cartridges, computer software and other consumer retail electronics based on his ability to resell the stolen goods on Amazon and eBay. He dictated the price that the theft crews would receive for the stolen merchandise, typically between 30 to 50 percent of the retail value. Then he allegedly resold the merchandise on the Internet through his illegitimate business, American Media Soft, which he ran at his Manhattan apartment.

There, Rimbaugh received, sorted, catalogued and shipped the stolen merchandise for resale, Schneiderman said. He also routinely met with theft crewmembers to pay them for the stolen merchandise. Over the 20 years of the ring’s operation, Rimbaugh allegedly reinvested about half of the proceeds into the criminal enterprise in cash payments to the crews to pay for the merchandise they stole.

The investigation also revealed that Athanasatos, referred to by members of the enterprise as “Field Marshal,” reported directly to Rimbaugh and was the manager of three of four theft crews that delivered stolen merchandise to Rimbaugh. Athanasatos allegedly managed the day-to-day operations of these three crews and received a percentage of the total amount of money that Rimbaugh paid the crew for stolen merchandise.

 Both Rimbaugh and Athanasatos dispatched the three theft crews on missions to various regions across the country and remotely managed their weekly operations, the attorney general said.

In addition to advising the shoplifters, Athanasatos allegedly provided the groups with coded maps detailing target retail locations. He is also accused of providing members of the theft crews with “booster” gear, such as custom-made vests known as “bazookas.” When worn underneath regular clothing, “bazookas” can conceal large amounts of merchandise.  

Rimbaugh and Athanasatos’s alleged crews each comprised two or three members, who were assigned roles such as “captain,” “lieutenant” or “sergeant.” The captain served as the crew leader and was responsible for managing and directing the lieutenant and sergeant. The crews systematically traveled across the country, at the direction of Rimbaugh and Athanasatos, who gave credit cards to the crews to cover expenses such as flights, car rentals and hotels.

Prosecutors allege that the crews often executed a series of retail thefts on a daily basis and then shipped the stolen merchandise to Rimbaugh at his apartment, where he prepared the merchandise for sale on Amazon and eBay. In fact, when investigators from the attorney general’s office were executing a search warrant on Rimbaugh’s home, five packages of stolen merchandise arrived, Schneiderman said.

The investigation also uncovered that Athanasatos was involved in an alleged welfare fraud conspiracy with Candanedo, in which Athanasatos filed false documentation with the Nassau County Department of Social Services to illegally receive housing benefits.

Athanasatos and Candanedo were named on a separate indictment in Nassau County on charges of forgery, possession of a forged instrument, offering a false instrument for filling, falsifying business records, larceny, welfare fraud and conspiracy to commit the crimes. If convicted, each faces 21 years in prison.

Attorneys for Cerratos and Candanedo could not be reached for comment.