By CBS Baltimore Staff

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A U.S. District Judge sentenced 36-year-old Saurabh Chawla, of Aurora, Colorado to 66 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release on federal charges of conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen goods and tax evasion.

According to his guilty plea and other court documents, from 2009 through 2019, Chawla purchased over $3.5 million of stolen goods from individuals with “insider” access to the goods and merchandise, in order to steal the items and sell them to Chawla without detection.

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Chawla initially sold goods and merchandise on eBay through the stores thecheetahexpress, eurotronics_4_less, and eurotronics-4-less. On about April 27, 2014, eBay suspended the thecheetahexpress and eurotronics_4_less stores from operating on eBay because “recent account activity has raised serious security concerns.”

“Saurabh Chawla coordinated a $3.5 million scheme – purchasing items from co-conspirators that he knew had been stolenincluding electronics that were intended to help underprivileged New Mexico school children, and selling them for his personal gain,” said Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner.

“When criminals like Chawla traffic stolen goods and willfully underreport their income to evade taxes, we all lose,” said Darrell J. Waldon, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the IRS-CI Washington D.C. Field Office.

Chawla also convinced James Bender, who was a good friend from college, to allow him to sell goods and merchandise online through eBay accounts Bender controlled in exchange for Chawla paying Bender a commission.

Over time, Chawla offered and sold a large number of stolen goods and merchandise for sale through HGF, other eBay stores, and other online marketplaces. At one point, Chawla had 400 active listings for goods and products on eBay.

The plea agreement also states that Chawla purchased Apple products from Kristy Stock from 2012 to 2018. Stock was a New Mexico public school employee responsible for overseeing a program to provide Apple iPods to school children with the goal to benefit underprivileged Native American children in New Mexico.  Stock stole more than 3,000 iPods purchased by the school district and sold them to Chawla.

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Chawla initially purchased the iPods from Stock on eBay and they later communicated through emails, texts and phone calls. Stock repeatedly advised Chawla of the items she had obtained providing details such as the model, color and number of Apple products available

Stock admitted that she received more than $800,000 in illegal proceeds from selling stolen iPods worth more than $1 million.

From 2009 through 2019 Chawla also purchased large quantities of goods from former FedEx employee Joseph Kukta, who obtained most of the items he sold to Chawla from bulk purchases shipped by FedEx and intended for delivery to FedEx customers. Kukta was able to steal the goods in such a way that FedEx never detected the crime. He then delivered the stolen goods and merchandise to a relative of Chawla Maryland.

In total, Chawla paid Kukta more than $1.5 million for goods and merchandise that Chawla resold for more than $3 million.

Chawla and Bender repeatedly deceived online platforms such as Amazon, eBay, as well as the manufacturers and distributors, as to the source of the goods and merchandise being sold, including the iPods that Stock stole from the New Mexico school district and goods and merchandise that Kukta stole from the Delaware FedEx facility.

Chawla later admitted in his plea agreement that he filed false tax returns for the tax years 2009 through 2017, falsely inflating the cost of goods sold and expenses for his businesses and underreported his adjusted gross income and tax due.  As a result, Chawla agreed that he failed to pay at least $640,000 in additional taxes due for tax years 2009 to 2017.

In total, Chawla caused a tax loss of more than $700,000 to the United States relating to the income of Chawla and his relative.

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His co-conspirators have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

CBS Baltimore Staff