By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The leader of a theft ring that stole millions of dollars of electronics and ink cartridges from big-box retailers and resold them on websites such as Amazon and eBay pleaded guilty to the top criminal charges he faced, New York's attorney general said.
Richard Rimbaugh, known to his co-conspirators as "The General," pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges of enterprise corruption, money laundering and criminal possession of stolen property, attorney general Eric Schneiderman said.
Rimbaugh, 65, of Manhattan, faces three to nine years in prison and will forfeit $7.28 million of illegal proceeds.
Twelve people had been indicted in March for their alleged involvement in the ring, following a 10-month probe known as "Operation Sticky Fingers."
Nine have pleaded guilty, including a plea on Wednesday by George Rapatsouleas, a leader of one of Rimbaugh's theft crews and known as "Nipplehead," the attorney general said.
Rapatsouleas, 31, of Brooklyn, faces two to six years in prison. Both defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 13 by state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley in Manhattan.
"Our investigation discovered a brazen crime ring methodically stealing millions from stores in New York and across the country," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Organized retail theft preys on businesses and ultimately harms consumers, who see the consequences in higher prices."
James Kousouros, a lawyer for Rimbaugh, said in an interview: "Mr. Rimbaugh accepted responsibility for his conduct, and accepted a significantly reduced sentence."
Lisa Pelosi, a lawyer for Rapatsouleas, in an interview said her client "took responsibility for his actions, and will move on to have a very productive life."
Investigators said the scheme involved thefts from Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples and other retailers across 28 U.S. states.
The attorney general said the scheme dated to at least 2012.
He said Rimbaugh directed his crews to steal specific items based on his ability to resell them, and dictated the prices they were to receive, typically 30 percent to 50 percent of their retail value.
Rimbaugh then resold the goods through American Media Soft, a business he ran from his apartment, the attorney general said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)