A West Virginia man is accused of running a shoplifting scheme that bordered on being a full-fledged criminal empire, one that allegedly included paying drug addicts to do most of the dirty work for him, ABC News reports.
Prosecutors allege that Nedeltcho Vladimirov made hundreds of thousands of dollars reselling stolen items over the internet, covering everything from electronics to vitamins, all shoplifted from grocery stores and pharmacies. He is believed to have made about $200,000 selling an estimated $370,000 worth of stolen goods from January 2019 to January 2020. The estimated 3,700 items were allegedly sold via websites such as eBay and Facebook Marketplace.
“The scale of this shoplifting-for-profit scheme is extraordinary,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart.
It wasn’t Vladimirov who did the actual shoplifting, authorities say. Rather, he’s alleged to have had between 15-20 people on his payroll who would shoplift for him. The West Virginia man reportedly paid them by giving them a fraction of the value of the items they stole. Most of his “employees” were drug addicts who would use the money to support their habits.
Stuart said at a news conference that Vladimirov used a rather unfortunate fact of life in Appalachia in general — and West Virginia in particular — to his advantage.
“One of the great tragedies in this scheme is that it fed the need for instant money by many shoplifters who were feeding their exhaustive search for drug cash. Schemes like this only serve to further and advance the crisis of addiction in our communities,” he said.
According to Huntington’s WSAZ-TV, authorities began to suspect that something more than just drug users stealing goods to support their habits was afoot when multiple shoplifters across a small area of South Charleston were arrested.
Soon, the United States Secret Service, West Virginia State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigations, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, and the South Charleston Police Department were all working together to conduct undercover surveillance operations to get to the bottom of the crime spree.
The evidence allegedly pointed to Vladimirov, a native of Bulgaria, and he was arrested this week and charged with money laundering.
Stuart also warned internet users that items for sale for a fraction of their retail price on websites such as Facebook Marketplace and eBay could very well be stolen, and to think twice before making the purchase.
“When you buy those goods, you’re feeding in to the addiction economy. You’re feeding in to the shoplifting economy,” he said.