April 4, 2018: Fences Indicted in Multi-Million Dollar, Multi-State Criminal Theft Operations
HOUSTON – Two brothers are set to appear in court following the return of two indictments for their separate operations involving the possession and interstate transportation of stolen property, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
A federal grand jury returned the indictments March 28, 2018, against Yasser Saleh Ouwad, 47, of and Bilal Saleh Awad, 45, both of Houston. Luis Garcia-Oyuela, 33, a Honduran national who illegally resided in Houston is also charged for his role in Ouwad’s organization. Ouwad and Garcia-Oyuela are set for their arraignment today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy at 10:00 a.m. Awad is scheduled for a detention hearing at 2:00 p.m. today before Judge Stacy. The indictment remains sealed as to others charged but not as yet in custody for their roles in the organizations.
Ouwad and Awad are alleged to have acted as high-level “fences” in multi-million dollar, multi-state criminal enterprises involving stolen over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, diabetic test strips and health and beauty supplies. The enterprises allegedly used “boosters” to steal OTC medication from large retailers.
A “booster” allegedly steals goods and merchandise not for personal use but for re-sale to a “fence” for a fraction of its retail value. A “fence” is a person who receives stolen goods and merchandise from “boosters” and others. The “fence” then re-sells the stolen goods and merchandise to third parties for a profit.
The scope of these criminal enterprises ranged from June 2015 to March 2018, according to the charges.
The indictment alleges Ouwad owned and operated Houston-based GPS Wholesale Inc. which he ran from his warehouse at 12440 Oxford Park, in Houston. At his warehouse, he and Garcia-Oyuela would receive stolen OTC, clean the products of anti-theft stickers and security labels, re-package the products into pallets and ship the merchandise to wholesale companies in the New Jersey, according to the charges. The indictment further alleges he hired undocumented aliens from Central America to travel throughout the United States to steal the OTC, beauty products and diabetic test strips from major retail chain stores such as Wal-Mart, CVS and Walgreens. He allegedly facilitated this interstate travel by fronting the boosters with travel money, wiring them money during their travels and paying the boosters for the stolen merchandise.
Awad allegedly ran a similar operation, but received his stolen merchandise at Cube Smart at 7001 Synott Road in Houston. The indictment alleges he cleaned and re-packaged the stolen OTC merchandise at his residence in Houston before shipping the product to a wholesale company in Oceanside, New York.
To avoid detection by law enforcement, the undocumented aliens would ship the stolen merchandise to Ouwad and Awad using fictitious names and company names, according to the charges. Once the stolen merchandise arrived in Houston, Awad and Ouwad or their associates would allegedly remove any retail store identifying labels and security features. The indictment alleges the fences would then have the stolen products repackaged and shipped to wholesalers in the Northeast for profit.
Authorities conducted a search of Ouwad’s warehouse on Feb. 27, 2018, at which time they seized almost $600,000 in stolen OTC as well as inventory lists and numerous items related to his alleged criminal activity. The following day, Awad was found with similar items related to his operation at his residence.
Ouwad, Awad and Garcia-Oyuela each face up to five years for conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise in interstate commerce as well as up to 10 years for each count of possessing and transporting interstate stolen merchandise. All charges also include a possible $250,000 maximum fine.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the Food and Drug Administration conducted the investigation with the cooperation of CVS, Walgreens, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Abbott and Kroger. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Heather Winter and Richard Hanes are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.