CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A fencing operation involving a downtown business in Charleston could bring more charges.
Detectives on Thursday arrested Khitam Ghoul, the wife of the owner of the Middle East Mart next to the city’s Transit Mall, and charged her with transferring and receiving stolen property. However, more charges could be filed.
Charleston police chief Brent Webster, a guest on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” said the small store was operating a big-time shoplifting ring.
“It’s a little retail criminal organization is what it is,” Webster said.
The fencing ring, according to police, took place at businesses across the city but it was mainly centered around the Charleston Town Center Mall.
Webster said Ghoul used a handful of thieves to carry out the crimes.
“She would basically give them a list of this is what (she) wanted, sometimes provide a picture of it and say, ‘I’d like to have this,'” the chief said. “Then the informants would go into a store—many times the Town Center Mall, but it could have been anywhere where the item was—and they would steal it and come back.”
In return investigators said the thieves got a few bucks for the items and Ghoul would pocket the rest.
Stolen items included CDs, DVDs, handbags, clothes, even food.
Webster said some of those items were on sale at the Middle East Mart.
“Not only is Mrs. Ghoul reselling a lot of the items, a lot of it is for her personal collection.”
Charleston police got a warrant Thursday evening and searched the Ghoul home.
“We believe there’s possibly up to $100,000 or more of stolen items. Things like high-end jeans with tags on them, high-end purses, expensive cologne, perfume, sunglasses, jackets,” said Webster.
Lisa McCracken, marketing director for Town Center Mall, said store operators been working closely with police for eight months.
“Charleston Town Center and some of our retailers have been cooperating with the Charleston Police Department and their efforts through an undercover investigation to put an end to some of this criminal activity.”
Some of the stores hardest hit by the ring include Macy’s, FYE and Kroger. Investigators estimated more than $700,000 in stolen merchandise came through the Middle East Mart.
Police also found money, marijuana and drug paraphernalia during their raid on the store.
The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department closed down the business Friday morning, citing a leaky roof in its kitchen.