Multi-State Sam’s Club Theft Ring Defendants Sentenced to Prison

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

COLUMBUS, Ga. – Several Columbus-area residents involved in a multi-state Sam’s Club theft ring amounting to $900,567 in loss to the company were sentenced to federal prison for their crimes.

Brian Cowman, 46, of Fortson, Georgia, was sentenced to serve 46 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release after he previously pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to transport stolen goods. Marcel Crawford, 68, of Columbus, was sentenced to serve 33 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and Ernest Mitchell, 55, of Columbus, was sentenced to serve 51 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release after they previously pleaded guilty to one count conspiracy to transport stolen goods. Mildred Alarcon, 48, of Fortson, previously pleaded guilty to one count of false statements and was sentenced to three years of probation. U.S. District Judge Clay Land handed down the sentences on April 27. There is no parole.

“Brian Cowman profited from this theft ring, reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars, even making a down payment for a new home with the illegal proceeds. These types of large-scale schemes have negative consequences for those of us who do the right thing, including increased prices of goods, business closings and job loss,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “We will take the necessary steps to hold accountable those individuals who scam our citizens.”

“These defendants operated a complex multi-state theft ring that was costly to the economic well-being of our communities,” said Clint Bush, Resident Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service, Albany, Georgia Resident Office. “The United States Secret Service, along with our state, local and federal law enforcement partners will continue to investigate, arrest and support the successful prosecution of the criminals who choose to commit this and other types of fraud in our community and nation.”

According to court documents and evidence presented in court, Cowman and Crawford conspired to transport and sell stolen goods taken from numerous Sam’s Club stores located throughout the southeastern and midwestern United States between March 2018 and Feb. 2019, with the assistance of the remaining co-defendants. Often financed and directed by Cowman, Crawford and his co-conspirators traveled to Sam’s Clubs stores in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, where they would steal various items including ink cartridges, Bose speakers, razors, DVDs, and tick and flea medications and collars for pets. The co-defendants often committed their crimes by emptying large boxes filled with inexpensive paper goods and filling them with more expensive items, paying only the cost of the boxed item and walking out of the store with the pilfered goods.

Following the theft, Crawford delivered the stolen goods to Cowman’s home in Columbus or a storage facility rented by Cowman. Cowman knew many of the items were stolen. Cowman would then sell the goods on his eBay store known as “rockislandoutdoorsllc.” Cowman conducted at least 6,474 sales transactions between March 2017 and Feb. 2019; many of these sales were of stolen Sam’s Club merchandise. Cowman is known to have transferred a total of $412,900 from his PayPal account into his personal bank account in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. A federal search warrant executed at Cowman’s home and storage facility recovered three boxes full of stolen goods plus stolen items valued at approximately $61,000. Cowman reaped the vast majority of the proceeds himself; Crawford estimated he received between $30,000 and $45,000 from Cowman in the year and a half that he sold Cowman stolen merchandise, proceeds from which Crawford used to pay his associates participating in the theft. Cowman used the money for personal expenses, including for a down payment on a new home in Harris County, Georgia. A forensic investigation determined that the total loss to Sam’s Club is $900,567.01.

The following two co-defendants have been indicted by a federal grand jury and remain at-large:

Christopher Brown, 50, of Phenix City, Alabama, and Orlando Brooks, 53, of Columbus, are both charged with one count of conspiracy to transport stolen goods.  If convicted, Brown and Brooks face a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.

This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service (USSS) and the Columbus Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Helmick is prosecuting the case.