2 brothers sentenced for roles in large-scale organized retail theft ring following HSI Houston, federal partner investigation
HOUSTON — Two brothers have been sentenced for their roles in a large-scale organized retail crime scheme following an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI).
Yasser Saleh Ouwad, a 52-year-old resident of Houston, was sentenced Nov. 15 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to 41 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release for conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise. Additionally, Ouwad was ordered to forfeit more than $260,000 from bank accounts representing the illicit proceeds from stolen merchandise and must pay $109,742 in restitution to CVS Health and Walgreens and a money judgment of $4,665,860.
Ouwad’s brother, Bilal Saleh Awad, a 50-year-old resident of Houston, was previously sentenced on Sept. 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to 41 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise. Additionally, Awad was ordered to forfeit more than $460,000 and approximately $6,000 in stolen merchandise and must pay $322,550 in restitution to CVS Health and Walgreens and a money judgment of $4,426,942.
Ouwad and Awad pleaded guilty to the charges on Oct. 12, 2021, and Oct. 30, 2019, respectively. Several other co-defendants involved in the organized retail crime scheme have also previously pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from 18-40 months.
“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protects consumers and patients by ensuring the medical products they use, whether they are by prescription or over-the-counter, are safe and effective,” said FDA - OCI Kansas City field office Special Agent in Charge Charles L. Grinstead. “Selling stolen medical products puts all consumers’ health at risk. We will continue to work to protect the health of U.S. consumers and patients.”
“The shifting predominance to online retailers drives the market for stolen goods at the expense of consumer safety and legitimate merchants,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Alamdar S. Hamdani. “Stolen over-the-counter medications and health products are often sold for a fraction of the retail price online but can be expired or subject to tampering. These schemes cause millions of dollars in losses to U.S. retailers by hiking up prices and creating an unsafe e-commerce market for consumers.”
From June 2015 to March 2018, Ouwad and Awad engaged in a high-level fencing operation involving multi-state, multi-million-dollar criminal organizations. The brothers purchased stolen over-the-counter medicines, diabetic test strips and health and beauty supplies for re-packaging and shipping.
This criminal enterprise also employed “boosters,” primarily unlawfully present noncitizens from Central America, to steal merchandise from large retailers around the United States. Boosters would then ship the stolen products back to Ouwad and Awad, who resold the stolen merchandise to third parties for a profit.
Ouwad owned and operated GPS Wholesale Inc. which he ran from his warehouse in Houston where he would receive the stolen products. Ouwad and his associates would then remove anti-theft stickers and security labels, re-package them into pallets and ship the merchandise to wholesale companies in the New Jersey area.
Awad ran a similar operation but would receive stolen merchandise at a CubeSmart Self Storage location in Houston. Awad also removed anti-theft labels and re-packaged the stolen merchandise at his residence before shipping the product to a wholesale company in New York.
Ouwad and Awad were permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Heather Winter and Richard Hanes prosecuted the case.
For more news and information on HSI’s efforts to aggressively investigate organized retail crime in Southeast Texas follow us on X, formerly known as Twitter, @HSIHouston.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.