Armed with search warrants, local, state and federal authorities raid businesses in Evansville, Henderson and Newburgh. After a lengthy eight-month investigation, a total of 19 people face charges in connection with a multi-million dollar retail theft ring that targeted more than a dozen businesses in the Tri-State area.
The tangled web, however, was led by Michael Rupert and Kyle Hudson, authorities said. Both were indicted on federal charges. Rupert is charged with Conspiracy to Commit Interstate Transportation of Stolen Goods and Interstate Transportation of Stolen Goods. Hudson has been charged with Conspiracy to Commit Interstate Transportation of Stolen Goods. The two would have other people steal goods from local stores and then sell those goods on Ebay, prosecutors said. Some of the stolen items included high-end vacuum cleaners, televisions, power tools and designer purses.
Fifteen more people face local felony charges. Charged with Corrupt Business Influence are: Jeremy Ford, Kyle Philpott, Patrick Walsh, Kyle Jones, Dane Reiter, Lane Avery, Hilary Arney, Zachary Williams, Jourdan Baird, Eric Stucker, Robert Savage, Caleb Meeler, Lauren Wallace, Stephani Spain, Angela Bevins.
Philpott, Walsh, Reiter, Ford and Avery have also been charged with a criminal gang enhancement. If found guilty of the enhancement, they each face 16 years. The other defendants charged locally face 2-8 years.
The investigation led to the arrest of Mario Butler for allegedly dealing a narcotic drug. One minor was also charged with burglary.
The eight month investigation culminated with raids at the Newburgh and Henderson locations of 'Dealmakers.' Authorities also served a search warrant at Kyle's Cell Phone Accessories and iPhone Repair on Washington Avenue near Weinbach. According to the federal indictment, Hudson conducted some deals at the former Super Flea Market on South Kentucky. Hudson's family used to own the property, according to court records. It remains unclear whether any of the stolen goods were sold to flea market patrons when the business was still in operation.
The investigation began when Evansville Police officers began looking into a series of thefts of high-end merchandise from local stores, including several stores at Eastland Mall. Working in conjunction with mall security, Officer Jeff Hands connected a getaway vehicle with a mall employee. That employee was determined to be Jones and the investigation deepened from there.
"The officers took something as simple as taking a purse from a store and were able to evolve this and cast a net that we were able to see not only other thefts but the organization," said Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann. "This was a good investigation."
In a big, white box truck, federal agents arrived to the Henderson Dealmakers location around 10 o'clock Tuesday morning. It was a surreal sight, witnesses said.
"My manager and I were opening up our store and the FBI just busted in," said Mark Honicker, an employee of a business that shares a building with Dealmakers' Henderson location. "We had a couple of customers in our store and the FBI came in and escorted everyone out."
While it may be impossible to truly calculate the value of all the stolen property, Hermann said it was substantial. Federal authorities said it is unlikely that a majority of the stolen merchandise will be recovered. The impact of this investigation will be substantial, Hermann said. Between 2012 and 2013, EPD reported a $3 to $4 million increase in retail thefts, Hermann said.
"If you don't have people buying stolen merchandise then you don't have as much shoplifting; you don't have as many burglaries; you don't have as many home invasions," Hermann said, adding that more arrests could be likely. "Being able to get people on a higher level not just the person taking things, we do think it will have a ripple effect."
It's a deal they'd take every time.