STRATFORD, Conn. -- A 42-year-old Stratford man pleaded guilty on Thursday to a scheme that used drug-addicted shoplifters to steal nearly $4 million in merchandise and resold the items online, authorities said.
The FBI investigated the case, with help from a number of regional police departments, including New Haven, North Haven, Milford, West Haven, Wallingford, Hamden and Orange, as well as the Connecticut State Police, Connecticut Department of Correction, Connecticut Chief State's Attorney’s Office, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS.
Matthew Harwood's guilty plea related to charges stemming from his participation in the large-scale fencing operation.
According to court documents and statements made in court, between January 2012 and December 2014, Harwood participated in a conspiracy to purchase stolen property from "boosters" -- typically shoplifters with opioid addictions -- and then resold the property online.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said Harwood and others instructed the boosters to steal certain items from retail stores, including Petco, Staples, Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond. They paid the boosters cash for the stolen items, about a third of the items' retail prices.
At times, Harwood even provided expenses for car rentals and spending money for overnight or out-of-state trips to steal products.
According to court documents and court statements, after receiving the stolen merchandise, Harwood and a co-conspirator stored the merchandise at multiple locations, including Harwood's former residence in Durham and business locations in North Haven.
Harwood and his co-conspirator then sold the stolen products online, including through eBay and Amazon, usually in the names of family members and associates.
Through this scheme, retailers lost more than $3.9 million.
Harwood pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit the interstate transport of stolen property, which has a five-year maximum sentence, and one count of interstate transport of stolen property, which has a maximum 10-year sentence.
With the plea, Harwood also agreed to forfeit his former residence in Durham and two mutual fund accounts in his name.
Harwood has been free on a $100,000 bond since his July 15 arrest. His sentencing date hasn't yet been scheduled.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Huang and John Pierpont Jr. are prosecuting the case.
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