Crime ring leader gets 10 years

Vancouver man's illegal scheme centered on resale of gift cards

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Fred James Engh

A Vancouver man was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday for charges related to operating a multistate retail theft crime ring.

In a last-minute agreement with prosecutors, Fred J. Engh, 31, pleaded guilty in Clark County Superior Court Thursday to leading organized crime, money laundering and bail jumping. In exchange, Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Nisle agreed to dismiss 53 other charges, including money laundering and trafficking in stolen property.

Leading organized crime is a strike offense. Conviction of three strike offenses results in a mandatory sentence of life in prison under state law.

Nisle and Engh’s defense attorney, Josephine Townsend, jointly recommended a sentence of eight years in prison. However, Judge Suzan Clark sentenced Engh to 10 years.

“The judge indicated she had problems with his lack of accountability and arrogance,” Nisle said.

In addition to his prison term, Engh will be required to serve 18 months of probation and forfeit all of his assets, including a $150,000 house, about $100,000 in cash and other personal property.

Engh was the ringleader of a network of shoplifters who stole merchandise and then returned it for store credit on a gift card, according to court documents. The shoplifters, often called “boosters,” then sold the gift cards to Engh for 40 to 75 percent of their value, and he resold the gift cards online, according to court documents.

The crime ring operated for at least three years in Washington, Oregon and Nevada, officials say.

Engh claimed in a phone call to The Columbian in April that he ran a legitimate business and that his competitor initiated the criminal investigation into his activities. He declined to name his competitor.

Investigators said he sold more than $700,000 in fraudulently obtained gift cards over a three-year period. He was arrested in May 2013 on suspicion of operating the crime ring. He posted bail and then fled to Mexico in July. He was apprehended in early November and has been in Clark County Jail since then in lieu of $1 million bail.