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Long IslandCrime

Three plead guilty in ‘Sticky Fingers’ theft ring, AG says

Three more people have pleaded guilty to charges filed in connection with Operation Sticky Fingers, a 10-month investigation of a theft ring that sold on the internet electronics and other items swiped from big box stores such as Best Buy, Office Depot and Staples in 28 states, prosecutors said.

George Athanasatos, of Brooklyn, pleaded guilty to attempted enterprise corruption, third-degree criminal possession of stolen property and second-degree money laundering, said the office of state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in a news release Wednesday, adding that the ring — which included at least two Long Islanders — stole more than $12 million in electronics and ink cartridges.

Athanasatos will be sentenced to 3 1⁄2 to 7 years in prison and will forfeit $439,204.88 in illegal proceeds, officials said.

“Retail theft is not a victimless crime,” Schneiderman said. “Ultimately, consumers pay higher prices while the perpetrators of these schemes cash in. These guilty pleas — and the forfeiture of hundreds of thousands of dollars — mark a major victory in what was one of the largest-ever busts of a retail theft ring.”

Prosecutors said the 12-person ring worked in crews of three or more and shoplifted at some stores on Long Island, including Best Buy in Riverhead and Staples in both Patchogue and Riverhead.

The group’s crews used several tactics — special vests to conceal pilfered merchandise, devices that deactivate exit security alarms and shortwave radios tuned to the frequency of the store’s security — to steal specific printer ink cartridges, computer software and other consumer retail electronics, which were then sold on Amazon and eBay.

Joseph Mure of Brooklyn, Athanastos’ attorney, said his client pleaded to the charges and hopes to get the proceedings over with. “He was looking to try and wrap everything up,” Mure said, referring to cases that Athanasatos has in several jurisdictions. “We did the best we could.”

Robert Scarano, of Las Vegas, also pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption and will be sentenced to 2 to 6 years in prison, officials said, adding that he admitted to being the leader of a two-person theft crew that executed dozens of retail thefts of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise.

Scarano is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 15, officials said. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

Joseph Pooler, of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption and will be sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison, officials said.

“Mr. Pooler was in very difficult family and financial circumstance when he took the actions that he did,” said Adam Freedman of Manhattan, Pooler’s attorney. “Pleading guilty today was his way of taking responsibility for those actions.”

Two Long Island men linked to the ring were Roger Ringhiser, 53, of Long Beach, who prosecutors said oversaw theft operations, and Kevin Cerrato, 22, of Elmont, who would walk out of stores with merchandise, officials said.

Charges are still pending against Ringhiser and several other defendants including the group’s alleged mastermind, Richard Rimbaugh, 64, of Enterprise, but Cerrato pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption on July 6 and is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 4, authorities said.

“My client is just nice young man who was probably a little naive,” said Robert Briere of Manhattan, Cerrato’s attorney. “I’m expecting the judge to take all that into consideration and be lenient at sentencing time. I think the judge fully understands the scheme my client found himself in.”

Attorneys representing Ringhiser and Rimbaugh could not be reached for comment.

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