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Man takes plea in shoplifting scheme

A Pennsylvania man on Thursday admitted in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to a shoplifting scheme discovered in Suffolk in May 2016.

Joseph W. Heim Jr. entered into a plea agreement admitting to one count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, according to court documents. A second charge on which he was indicted, unlawfully transporting stolen goods in interstate commerce, will not be prosecuted as part of the agreement.

Heim and others had a scheme to steal large quantities of pet-related products from stores, mostly PetSmart stores, in Virginia and North Carolina. They would then advertise and sell the stolen merchandise via eBay or to prearranged customers using Paypal, according to court documents. At time, the goods were mailed via the U.S. Postal Service.

Heim and his co-conspirators would determine the type and quantity of items to be stolen. They all traveled together in multiple vehicles, sometimes hitting multiple stores per day.

Some members served as lookouts, while others carried bags for still others to fill up with the stolen products, the court documents state.

The packages were then mailed to buyers who were unaware the goods were stolen.

Heim decided how much to pay other conspirators and how much to keep for himself, the court documents state. Heim also controlled the money to pay for travel-related expenses.

In April and May of 2016, the co-conspirators traveled from Pennsylvania to PetSmart stores in Fairfax, Raleigh, Charlotte, Colonial Heights, North Chesterfield, Midlothian, Richmond, Mechanicsville, Williamsburg, Newport News and Hampton.

They were finally caught at the PetSmart store in North Suffolk on May 6, when the Suffolk Police Department responded to a 911 call for a larceny in progress. The responding officers arrested Heim and one co-conspirator, but the others fled the scene.

A search of the pair’s vehicles resulted in the recovery of hundreds of pet-related products valued at about $45,000.

In all, the scheme netted the group about $500,00 in sales, the court documents state.

Heim is set to be sentenced Aug. 1.

A co-defendant, Timothy B. Erb Jr., of Wormleysville, Pa., has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting his next court date.