Warrant issued for missing defendant

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

A Clark County judge on Wednesday authorized a warrant for the arrest of a former Meals on Wheels board member who vanished after being charged with operating a sham business buying and selling fraudulently-obtained gift cards.

Fred J. Engh, 30, was released May 31 on $100,000 bail after pleading not guilty to 55 charges. They include leading organized crime, three counts of money laundering, three counts of first-degree trafficking stolen property, six counts of second-degree possession of stolen property, six counts of first-degree attempted trafficking in stolen property, six counts of attempted money laundering, 28 counts of second-degree attempted possession of stolen property, two counts of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

Clark County Superior Court’s Supervised Release program reported on July 12 that Engh had left the Portland metropolitan area without permission and could not be reached by phone. Supervised Release officers recommended that the judge revoke Engh’s release. A hearing to consider the matter was scheduled for Wednesday. When Engh didn’t show up, Judge John Nichols authorized a warrant for his arrest.

Engh is accused of leading a network of shoplifters who swiped merchandise from stores and then returned the items for store credit on a gift card. Then, the shoplifters allegedly sold the gift cards to Engh for about 40 percent to 75 percent of face value, according to a probable cause affidavit. He is accused of purchasing the goods, knowing that they were stolen, and selling them from his home on eBay for hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit.

Court documents indicate the organized shoplifting ring operated in Washington, Oregon and Nevada. Clark County 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.

When a search warrant was served on his home, police said, they also found he had Oxycodone, which wasn’t prescribed to him, and firearms. Engh isn’t allowed to have firearms because he’s a convicted felon.

He pleaded guilty in January 2003 to felony possession of a controlled substance, psylocybin, with the intent to deliver and was sentenced to 42 months in prison. Psylocybin is found in psychedelic mushrooms.

His other criminal history includes fourth-degree domestic violence assault in 2009, malicious mischief in 2010 and 2012, disorderly conduct in 2006, phone harassment in 2002, reckless driving in 2002 and failure to appear at court hearings, according to court records.

Court documents indicate the sales were his only source of income for the past two years. Josephine Townsend, Engh’s attorney, 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.

She was not available for comment Wednesday.

Engh was one of 20 members of the board for the Portland-based Meals on Wheels before his most recent charges. The organization serves hot meals to seniors in the Portland-Vancouver metro area.