FBI baby formula investigation latest to allege the use of ‘boosters’

Three men allegedly used drug addicts to steal from retailers in Butler and Hamilton counties, going as far as requesting specific types of baby formula, and then shipped the stolen goods to other parts of the country, according to federal court documents.

Khalil Yacub, 44, of Liberty Twp.; Khalil Jaghama of West Chester Twp.; and Jasser Saleh, 41, of Liberty Twp. are all charged with federal crimes of transporting stolen goods, conspiracy to commit the crime and unlawful possession of a means of identification, according to court documents from the United States Federal Court in Cincinnati.

The men were arraigned Thursday by federal Magistrate Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz and released on their own recognizance. They were all appointed counsel after filling out financial affidavits indicating they could not afford to employ attorneys. A preliminary hearing is set for March 7.

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Yacub’s family owns and operates the convenience store The Pit Stop at 2510 W. Galbraith Road in Colerain Twp., and much of the alleged criminal activity centered around that store. A confidential person told investigators she has sold stolen formula at two other Cincinnati businesses run by Yacub.

Employees of the Pit Stop, including Yacub, Jaghama and Saleh, would allegedly pay individuals to work as “boosters” to steal baby formula.

The defendants would pay those boosters with cash from the convenience store register for the stolen formula, according to investigators. For example, boosters might sell cans of stolen baby formula to the Pit Stop for $5 per can. On June 30, 2018, alone, one woman brought 40 cans of baby formula to the Pit Stop to be sold, officials said.

Yacub would request “boosters” steal Enfamil Premium Infant Formula Power, according to court documents.

The alleged stolen baby formula conspiracy is just the latest in a trend of “boosting” and selling goods for cash. In 2016, heroin addiction and greed were being blamed for fueling the local black market for stolen goods, including everything from heartburn medication to laundry detergent.

A Fairborn father and son were convicted of receiving stolen property for selling Tide Pods at Traders World Flea Market in Monroe.

The sale of stolen items has increased at flea markets and on the Internet, officials said. Thieves are hard to catch and they move from one flea market to another, officials said.

In the current case, during the week of June 24, 2018, multiple people came to the Pit Stop with stolen merchandise that included not only baby formula, but electronics, and over-the-counter medications such as large ($20 to $35) boxes of Nexium and sinus medication, according to court documents.

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On June 14 2018, Jaghama allegedly told a “booster” who received $50 for the stolen goods, “I need more, bring me more!” according to the federal affidavit. They referred to the the formula as “milk.”

In order to combat the theft of baby formula, retailers often place stamps or stickers on containers sold in stores. A confidential person told investigators that when the stolen cans were purchased, the defendants used nail polish to remove the stamp in a process referred to as “cleaning the milk,” according to the court documents. Then the cans were placed in boxes for transport.

Before the defendants would purchase the stolen baby formula from boosters, they would often take a photo of the booster’s driver’s license or state identification in order to prevent the boosters from reporting co-conspirators to the police, officials said. The defendants kept documentation as “insurance” in case any of the “boosters” reported them to police.

“On one occasion, Saleh told the (confidential human), ‘Don’t let us find out you are being followed’ and made a throat-cutting sign across his neck,” the investigators say in the court documents.

Defendants also allegedly brandished a handgun and used a Taser to intimidate and control buyers.

It is alleged that between 2017 and last month, the defendants stored and shipped hundreds of cans of baby formula for resale to other parts of the country. The defendants used a storage facility to warehouse the stolen goods, officials said.

A GPS monitor placed in an Enfamil can in the storage facility showed that the product was transported interstate to the West Coast.

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