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Baltimore warehouse owners plead guilty in scheme to steal $1 million of nickel imported into the port of Baltimore

BALTIMORE — Two Baltimore warehouse owners pleaded guilty to conspiring to transport stolen nickel briquettes stored next to their warehouse, which had been imported through the Port of Baltimore, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Gregg Lee Purbaugh, 50, of Baltimore, pleaded guilty Monday and his business partner, Kenneth Trainum, 44, also of Baltimore, pleaded guilty April 20. Purbaugh and Trainum each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison at their sentencing Aug. 9 at 9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

According to their plea agreements, Purbaugh and Trainum opened Bear Creek Warehouse Company in 2006. Their primary customer was an international mining company that shipped cargo containers of nickel to the Port of Baltimore from its mines outside the United States, then stored the nickel in the Bear Creek Warehouse. Beginning in 2006, Purbaugh and Trainum began removing the mining company's nickel from the warehouse, setting it aside to sell later. In June 2006, Purbaugh approached a co-conspirator to sell the nickel in Pittsburgh, Pa. The co-conspirator contacted the owner of a Pittsburgh scrap metal company who agreed to purchase the nickel from the co-conspirator.

From 2006 through 2011, Purbaugh sold the co-conspirator a total of 80,000 pounds of nickel worth approximately $1 million. Purbaugh arranged the delivery of the nickel with the co-conspirator and the scrap metal dealer. Purbaugh then arranged for his driver, who lives near Pittsburgh, to drive a truck to the warehouse, which Trainum then loaded with the stolen nickel. Each load typically contained 6,000 pounds of nickel and the shipments took place at least twice a year. The co-conspirator paid Purbaugh in cash, which he divided with Trainum.

On Nov. 2, 2011, HSI special agents saw a driver enter the Bear Creek Warehouse parking lot and Purbaugh unlocked a shipping container adjacent to the warehouse that contained unmarked sacks of nickel briquettes. Trainum removed one of the sacks of nickel with a fork lift and loaded it onto the truck. While Trainum was unloading a second bag of nickel, HSI special agents intervened and secured the stolen nickel. During the subsequent search, HSI special agents recovered 15 bags containing approximately 30,000 pounds of nickel which had been diverted from the mining company's shipments.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gregory R. Bockin and Martin J. Clarke.