FBI: Amazon Drivers Involved In Multi-Million Dollar Theft Ring Involving Pawn Shops

Two contracted Amazon delivery drivers routinely stole items out of packages they were handling, selling the contents at local pawn shops and through a theft ring that accounted for more than $10 million in sales on Amazon.com since 2013, according to AP, citing a FBI search warrant affidavit unsealed last month. 

A police detective last summer noticed that one of the drivers had dozens of pawn shop transactions, and thus began an investigation that uncovered a theft ring that sold millions of dollars’ worth of stolen goods on Amazon.com in the past six years, the FBI said.

According to the search warrant affidavit, two storefront businesses posing as pawn shops bought the goods from shoplifters, then had the items shipped to Amazon warehouses, where they were stored until sold online. -AP

According to the FBI, the agency is still waiting on records from Amazon to determine the full extent of the thefts. 

Federal investigators raided the pawn shops and the home of the scheme's ringleader, 44-year-old Aleksandr Pavlovskiy of Auburn, Washington. That said, charges have yet to be filed in the case. 

The investigation began last summer when a police detective in Auburn, a south Seattle suburb, was perusing a record of pawn shop sales and noticed that one man had made 57 transactions. It turned out to be one of the drivers.

He had received nearly $30,000 selling items to the pawn shops between February and July last year, the affidavit said. Police initially arrested the driver, but released him from jail to avoid disrupting their larger investigation.

The other driver, identified as Abbas Zghair, was believed to be a roommate of the first. Amazon told investigators that Zghair stole about $100,000 worth of property, including gaming systems, sporting goods and computer products — items he sold to one of the pawn shops for less than $20,000, the agent wrote. -AP

One man named Alex who answered the door at one of the named pawn shops told the Associated Press that his business was legitimate and his good record-keeping should keep him out of any trouble. According to FBI agent Ariana Kroshinsky, the two Amazon drivers were among those providing stolen goods to the pawn shops. 

Detectives staked out the pawn shops, Innovation Best in Kent and Thrift-Electro in Renton, and observed that they appeared to be paying shoplifters and drug users cash for new items from Home Depot, Lowes and Fred Meyer department stores. Unlike typical pawn shops, they didn’t make sales; instead, the products were moved to a warehouse and to Amazon “fulfillment centers,” from where they were shipped when they were sold on Amazon’s website by sellers using the handles “Bestforyouall” or “Freeshipforyou,” the affidavit said. -AP

In a statement, Amazon said: "When we learned there was an investigation into two contracted drivers, we cooperated with law enforcement by providing them the information they requested. Additionally, we strictly prohibit inauthentic or stolen goods from being offered in our store and take action when sellers do not comply." 

Both drivers were employees of JW Logistics, based in Fricso, Texas. 

According to a database of pawnshop transactions reviewed by Auburn police, the suspect pawn shops paid more than $4.1 million to sellers who brought them nearly 48,000 items in the past six years. The items included allergy medication, razors, electric toothbrushes and tools in their original packaging. Detectives also conducted undercover operations in which they sold new items in their original packaging to the shops, which accepted them no questions asked, Kroshinsky wrote. -AP

"It’s a little bit of an arms race for Amazon to be able to take in product, put it on the web and get it to their customers in a speedy fashion and not unwittingly sell stolen stuff at the same time," said Jon Reily - a VP for the digital consultancy firm Publicis Sapient and previously the head of e-commerce user experience for Amazon Devices. 

"Ultimately what Amazon has to do is show good faith if the government comes knocking on the door and says, ‘Look, you’re selling stolen goods.’"