Farmington man among charged in multi-million dollar pawn shop scheme in Rochester

A 30-year-old Farmington man was among the accused in a multi-million dollar scheme to buy and sell stolen merchandise at Rochester-area pawn shops.

Ralph Swain, 30, of Farmington, as well as 35-year-old Thomas Nary, 27-year-old Eric Finnefrock, 35-year-old Devin Tribunella, and 22-year-old Wade Shadders – all of Rochester – were charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, selling and conspiring to sell stolen goods across state lines, and engaging in financial transactions involving the proceeds of unlawful activity.

Officials say the charges carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to the complaint against defendants Nary, Finnefrock, and Swain, Nary owns and operates Rochester Pawn & Gold (RPG) located at 1440 Dewey Avenue in Rochester. RPG has one of the highest volumes of purchases and sales of any pawnshop in Monroe County. Finnefrock has been an employee of RPG since April 2015. Swain has been an employee since March 2018.

According to the complaint against defendant Tribunella and Shadders, Tribunella owns and operates Royal Crown Pawn & Jewelry (Royal Crown) located at 3635 Dewey Avenue in Rochester. Like RPG, Royal Crown has one of the highest volumes of purchases and sales of any pawnshop in Monroe County. Shadders has been an employee since April 2019.

The complaints state that individuals struggling with opiate addiction have been stealing merchandise from Rochester area retail stores, including CVS, Wegmans, Walmart, Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Circuit City, Target, Walmart, and Home Depot, and selling the stolen merchandise to pawnshops, such as RPG and Royal Crown. The defendants are alleged to have knowingly purchased stolen, new-in-box goods from these individuals for a fraction of the retail value. In order to perpetuate this scheme, the defendants made false and fraudulent representations in an online database known as LeadsOnline as well as in their User Agreements with eBay and Amazon. The defendants would subsequently re-sell the stolen goods on eBay and Amazon and ship them to buyers, including to buyers located outside of New York State.

The complaints further allege that the defendants specifically recruited individuals who struggle with addiction and who use the proceeds of their “sales” of stolen merchandise to purchase illegal drugs. The defendants would identify those items they were interested in having stolen based on what was in high demand or selling at a high profit on eBay. The defendants purchased numerous new-in-box items from the same boosters multiple times per week and sometimes even multiple times each day. The defendants typically bought the stolen merchandise for a small fraction, approximately 30%, of its retail value.

Between January 1, 2015, and August 14, 2019, defendants Nary, Finnefrock, and Swain, are accused of purchasing and re-selling at least $12,481,840.48 worth of stolen goods on eBay and Amazon at RPG.

In addition, between January 1, 2017, and September 16, 2019, defendants Tribunella and Shadders are accused of purchasing and re-selling $3,248,426.79 in stolen goods on eBay.

Notably, the easy access to cash these entities provided to drug users who were willing to steal merchandise has contributed to the opioid epidemic in the Rochester area community. For example, in 2018, 930 people overdosed in Monroe County. Of those, 542 (over half) had a history of selling stolen merchandise to pawnshops. Similarly, as of September 24, 2019, 228 of the 522 individuals who have overdosed in Monroe County so far this year, have a history of selling to pawnshops.

Moreover, during 2018 and 2019, there have been 15 recorded instances of individuals selling merchandise to RPG and Royal Crown within five days of overdosing; three of those overdoses were fatal. By way of example, on October 18, 2019, an individual identified as V.C. suffered a fatal overdose. V.C. had three recorded sales to RPG for a total of $650 in the weeks prior to his death, with the last sale occurring on October 17, 2019, the day before V.C.’s death, when V.C. sold an Apple iPad to RPG for $130.

This cycle of theft and re-sale has also resulted in Monroe County has some of the highest incidents of retail theft in the country, according to statistics maintained by nationwide retailers.

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