Vancouver woman accused in gift card crime ring

Her brother, who allegedly ran operation, is missing after apparently jumping bail

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

Updated: August 2, 2013, 7:19 PM

 

A Vancouver woman appeared Friday in Clark County Superior Court on accusations that she was involved in an organized crime ring allegedly operated by her brother, former Meals on Wheels board member Fred J. Engh.

Amanda K. Engh, 33, faces charges of money laundering, criminal profiteering and criminal conspiracy at her Aug. 9 arraignment. Judge John Nichols held her on $30,000 bail and appointed Vancouver attorney Tony Lowe to defend her.

While she stood in shackles in front of the judge Friday, her brother was still missing. Fred Engh first appeared on the allegations May 16 with Vancouver attorney Josephine Townsend by his side. He then allegedly jumped his $100,000 bail sometime after a May 30 appearance where he pleaded not guilty to the charges. A warrant was issued July 26 for his arrest.

The crime ring involved a network of shoplifters who stole merchandise and then returned it for store credit on a gift card, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. The shoplifters, known as “boosters,” allegedly sold the gift cards to Fred Engh for 40 percent to 75 percent of their value. Fred Engh, in turn, allegedly resold the gift cards online for hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit over at least a three-year period. He is charged with more than 50 counts, including leading an organized crime ring, money laundering and theft.

His sister was arrested Thursday after an extensive investigation of a bank account allegedly connected to the ring, as well as text messages and a recorded jail phone call between the brother and sister.

The siblings lived together, along with Amanda’s husband, Michael Sokimi, at a home in Vancouver’s Wildwood neighborhood at the time of Fred Engh’s arrest.

Amanda Engh allegedly opened at least one bank account and used it to help her brother hide and divide profits from the sham business to avoid suspicion and to evade taxation, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in court.

She’s also accused of buying, selling and receiving the fraudulently obtained gift cards.

Text messages between the siblings show that Amanda Engh was aware that the enterprise was illegal, Sheriff’s Detective Chris Luque wrote in the affidavit. She mentioned “suspicious activity reports” and “red flags,” Luque wrote.

Between January 2012 and May 2013, Amanda Engh allegedly deposited $184,192 into a bank account she opened at Columbia Credit Union. Twenty-five of the 26 deposits were from online retailer Amazon, where Fred Engh allegedly sold some of the gift cards.

The organized shoplifting network spanned Washington, Oregon and Nevada, according to court records. Sheriff’s detectives began investigating Engh in February after meeting with multiple retailers who provided information that Engh was inquiring into the value of hundreds of gift cards.

Court documents indicate the gift card sales were his only source of income for the past two years. Townsend has said he reported income of $350,000 to the IRS for 2012 for what he viewed as his legitimate business.

She said when he bought gift cards from sellers, he specifically warned them that he wouldn’t buy cards obtained through illegal means. However, there was not a good way to verify whether sellers were telling him the truth, she said.

Engh, 33, was one of 20 members of the board for the Portland-based Meals on Wheels before his arrest in May.

The organization serves hot meals to seniors in the Portland-Vancouver metro area.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.