Montco authorities dismantle a network of retail thefts in several counties

NORRISTOWN, PA — Authorities in Montgomery County say they busted an organized retail theft ring across multiple counties in which defendants employed drug addicts to steal a wide range of items from major big-box retail chains for resell.

The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office said Friday it made five arrests in connection with the retail theft ring, which targeted stores like Lowes and Home Depot in Montgomery, Berks and Lehigh counties.

“It was a network of high-volume organized thefts that caused significant losses to the targeted businesses, both through the thefts themselves and through the loss of customers who purchased the merchandise stolen from the defendants,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele. A declaration.

Steele’s office said there were a total of five arrests in the case, but only two of those defendants were named: Joseph A. Payea, 67, and Penelope L. McClain, 49, all two from Macungie, Lehigh County.

The county’s investigation began late last year after Lower Pottsgrove Township police determined that some recent retail thefts in this Montogomery County municipality were not isolated acts, but were instead committed by a network of individuals acting together to steal various items, the prosecutor’s office said.

Investigators eventually determined that Payea and McClain were the alleged leaders of the corrupt organization and would use social media or text messages to deliver shopping lists of desired items to a group of people with substance use disorders. , who would then turn around and steal the merchandise. retail stores.

Some of the stolen items included high-end brand name power tools, generators and electrical wire.

Prosecutors said the items would then be resold for less than market value, often between 60 and 80% of market value, using social media and both personal and ‘mud’ sales. , which are sales often held at places like local fire companies that are meant to raise money for certain causes.

The prosecutor’s office said the two named defendants would pay cash for the stolen items – typically offering between 40 and 50% of retail value – and the organization’s sub-operators would then turn around and buy drugs such as heroin and fentanyl with the money to feed their addiction.

Steele, the district attorney, at one point said the two named defendants made more than $50,000 in one day selling stolen items at a local mud sale.

“This is a significant loss for any business to bear on an ongoing basis,” Steele said in the statement. “Furthermore, the fact that the corrupt organization used individuals with addictions is inadmissible and favored their addition to poisons.”

Steele said the investigation was extensive and involved law enforcement from Montgomery County, Lehigh County and Pennsylvania State Police, as well as individual retail store loss prevention departments. that have been affected in the flight network.

Investigators used physical surveillance, stationary surveillance, detailed phone call records, cell site analysis, search warrants and undercover purchases of the stolen merchandise, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Steele’s office said that at the time of Payea and McClain’s arrests, search warrants that were executed produced a large number of power tools, most of which were new and still in unopened boxes and wrapped in plastic. store.

Investigators seized more than 500 tools and tool components, approximately 50 chainsaws, 67 spools of electrical wire and other items, with the total estimated retail value of the items amounting to just under $100,000.

Both Payea and McClain have been charged with operating a corrupt organization, conspiracy, trafficking in the proceeds of unlawful activities, organized retail theft, criminal use of a communications facility, receiving possession of, criminal solicitation to commit retail theft and other charges.

Payea and McClain’s bail was set at $500,000 and $250,000 respectively.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 15 before Magistrate District Judge James P. Gallagher.

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