West York Police have charged 110 people they say were involved in a large retail theft ring that netted an estimated $750,000 in stolen merchandise.
Police announced Wednesday morning charges were filed against those involved after a roughly four-month investigation.
The alleged ringleader, James Lee Giuffrida, 30, whose last known address is in the 1400 block of West Market Street in the borough, was charged with two counts of organized retail theft and one count each of retail theft and receiving stolen property in November, according to his charging documents.
He is in York County Prison on $25,000 bail for these charges and on a probation detainer, a prison spokesman said.
Even if he were to post bail, he would not be released from prison because of the probation detainer.
The ring: Police allege Giuffrida headed a highly organized theft network active since 2009 whose activity started to branch out and grow in late 2011.
Ring members stole merchandise Giuffrida then bought and sold, or exchanged the items for store gift cards, which Giuffrida also then bought and sold at a profit, police allege.
Patrolman Dave Kahley, who headed the investigation, said police know about an estimated $750,000 in thefts and fraudulent merchandise exchanges.
"We believe it went up to a million (dollars) and that's just an estimate," he said.
Ring members worked in crews of three to four people and targeted 92 businesses at more than 300 locations in five counties in Pennsylvania and two in Maryland, Kahley said.
Positions: Each member of the crew had a particular role and targeted several stores in a week, making between $1,500 and $5,000 a day, according to Giuffrida's charging documents.
One crew member would drive other members to a store where another member, dubbed a "booster," would steal an item. Another person, called a "refunder," would either return the item to the same store or have the driver go to another store where it was returned in exchange for gift cards, Kahley said.
"They would do this daily like it was their jobs," he said.
The gift cards were sold to Giuffrida, who in turn resold the cards, mainly on the Internet.
Crew members also stole items, such as razor blades or batteries, and then sold each item to Giuffrida for $2 to $5 each. Once Giuffrida had a number of each product, he sold them as lots on the Internet, Kahley said.
When police served a search warrant at Giuffrida's business, the now-defunct Powerhouse Graphix, at a rented storefront at 1415 W. Market St. in November, they found more than 140 packs of batteries, more than 70 packs of print ink cartridges and more than 50 pairs of designer glasses and sunglasses, documents state.
Police found 257 gift cards with a combined value of $72,370 and another 456 gift cards with no value indicated on them. They also recovered $12,000 cash.
Legitimate: Ron Gross, Giuffrida's attorney, said his client denies any involvement in the ring but operated a legitimate business that bought and sold gift cards.
"The charges are simply that - they are allegations," Gross said. "This makes both of us laugh because the gift cards presented to him were obtained legally."
Gross said it's not uncommon for someone to receive a gift card as a gift and sell it because the person needs money that can be spent anywhere instead of a gift card that can only be used at one chain of stores.
Giuffrida kept records that included the sellers' names and other information when buying gift cards, Gross said.
Gross said his client denies knowing any of the people who have been charged or that the merchandise found by police was stolen.
"My client is denying any of these items were stolen," Gross said.
Kahley estimated about one tenth of a percent of the gift cards involved were obtained through legal means.
More arrests: Of the 110 people who have been charged so far, about 90 percent are from York County, Kahley said.
"We had a husband-and-wife couple and a mother and daughter," Kahley said.
Police have determined the crews operated in York, Adams, Cumberland, Lancaster and Lebanon counties, as well as the two Maryland counties.
Kahley said he expects to charge additional people and to file additional charges against Giuffrida.
"We're anticipating filing charges against at least 18 more (people)," he said.
- Reach Greg Gross at email@example.com.