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Intellectual Property Rights

7 charged in interstate over-the-counter drug theft and fencing operation

HOUSTON — Following the arrest of those charged, an indictment was unsealed on Tuesday which charges seven area residents with operating an interstate over-the-counter (OTC) drug theft and fencing ring, structuring and money laundering. The indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. The case is being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The 29-count indictment, returned on July 13, charges seven defendants and seeks to forfeit the interest of the defendants in the illicitly obtained proceeds. The seven were charged with the following crimes: conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise in interstate commerce, structuring monetary transactions to evade reporting requirements, money laundering, and substantive counts of transporting stolen goods.

Those charged include the alleged "fence," Mohammad Zainaldin, owner of Quick Gas and Lube on Westheimer Road in Houston, and his girlfriend, Innessa Stafeyeva. Stafeyeva allegedly worked at the warehouse where the stolen OTC merchandise was stored. Five others also worked at the same warehouse — two allegedly high-level and three additional "boosters," or persons who steal the goods ultimately delivered to the fence for re-sale.

Zainladin, 33, was born in the Palestinian territory; Stafeyeva, 23, is a citizen of Kazakhstan. The other five are all citizens of Honduras: Carlos Reyes Roque 40, Marcos Ascencio Perdomo, 35, both alleged high-level boosters; Irma Hernandez, 34; Ana Ramos, 30; and Claudia Flores, 35.

The indictment was unsealed July 19 following the arrest of Zainladin, Stafeyeva, Ramos and Flores. Zainladin and Flores were arrested at their respective residences; Stafeyeva and Ramos were taken into custody at Zainladin's warehouse on Westpark Drive and ICE HSI offices in Houston, respectively. These four are expected to make their initial appearance on Wednesday before a U.S. magistrate judge, at which time the government expects to request the defendants remain in federal custody without bond pending trial.

Reyes-Roque and Perdomo are presently in federal custody on unrelated criminal charges, and are expected to appear in federal court for initial appearances on these most recent charges in the near future. Hernandez is being transferred from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) administrative custody into federal custody, to face these charges and make her initial appearance in federal court as early as July 20.

The indictment accuses all seven defendants of conspiring together to steal OTC drugs from retail pharmacies and other stores in Texas and in other states. The indictment alleges that thieves referred to as "boosters" allegedly used aluminum foil-lined bags to steal the OTC from pharmacies and retail stores. The boosters shipped the OTC medicines to Zainladin during out-of-state trips via FedEx or UPS to avoid detection by law enforcement during routine traffic stops.

According to allegations in the indictment, Zainladin was the "fence" for the stolen merchandise and the leader of the organization. Once Zainladin received the stolen OTC drugs, he paid the boosters in cash at his gas station. Zainladin used bank accounts to mask his illegal activity; he withdrew amounts less than $10,000, allegedly to avoid bank-reporting requirements, to pay his boosters.

Conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise in interstate commerce and to structure carries a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine upon conviction. Conspiracy to launder proceeds of greater than $10,000 from the alleged interstate transportation of stolen property carries a maximum punishment of 10 years and/or a $250,000 fine upon conviction. Structuring financial transactions to avoid currency-reporting requirements carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and/or a $250,000 fine upon conviction. Each count of transporting stolen goods and structuring carries a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine upon conviction.

The charges resulted from a 12-month investigation conducted by ICE HSI, and the Houston Police Department's Major Offenders Unit. Substantial assistance and cooperation was provided by CVS and Walgreens drug stores' loss prevention divisions.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty through due process of law.