Organized Scheme of Continued Stealing Brings Much More Than Just Theft Charges

52 Thefts in Jacksonville Retail Stores leads to the Arrest of Four People in Jacksonville.

A recent News4Jax story shed light on a theft ring operating in Jacksonville Florida over the past two years.  The individuals targeted Lowes and Home Depot home improvement stores from 2017 to 2019.  The four would specifically steal high end power tools from the businesses.  The news report states the total loss for the retails stores is in excess of $83,000.00.  Currently arrested are Nicole Arnette, Samantha Cowles, Brian Hudson, and Keith Wright.

A review of the court files gives details into the investigation and charges that each individual faces.  The investigation was run by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and appears will be prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Statewide Prosecution Unit.  All of the police reports have yet to be released by Florida’s Public Records law.

Nicole Arnette is currently charged with Conspiracy to Violate Rico Laws (First Degree Felony),  25 Counts of Grand Theft (Third Degree Felony) and one count of Petit Theft (First Degree Misdemeanor).  Arnette also has a second case with two charges of Petit Theft.

Samantha Cowles is currently charged with Dealing in Stolen Property and Petit Theft.

Brian Hudson is currently charged with Conspiracy to Violate Rico Laws (First Degree Felony),  55 Counts of Grand Theft (Third Degree Felony) and three counts of Petit Theft (First Degree Misdemeanor).

Keith Wright is charged with 55 Counts of Grand Theft (Third Degree Felony) and three counts of Petit Theft (First Degree Misdemeanor).

The Investigation

In the limited amount of released police reports it is clear this was a long term investigation conducted by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.  In the arrest of Samantha Cowles law enforcement conducted surveillance of Hudson who drove to Cowles house to pick her up.  The two then drove directly to a Home Depot in the Regency area.  At this time Cowles entered the business, walked to the tool section and stole a power tool battery valued at $258.00 and exited without paying for the item.  Cowles was captured on security surveillance stealing the item.

After Cowles exited the store, she got back into the car with Hudson.  The two then drove to a Popeyes parking lot and met with an unidentified male and exchanged the battery for an undetermined amount of currency.  Once the transaction was completed, Hudson and Cowles left the parking lot together.  JSO kept surveillance on the two during this entire time.

The detective in the case sought a warrant for the above crime involving Cowles.  She received a bond amount of $15,003.00 for the Dealing in Stolen Property and $1,003.00 for the Petit Theft. Cowles was arrested on the warrant on June 19, 2019.   A current check of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Inmate Search shows that Cowles has not bonded out.

The Charges:

The most serious charge involved in this scheme is the Conspiracy to Violate Rico Laws.  The charge is a First Degree Felony with a maximum of thirty years in Florida State Prison.  To prove this charge, the State of Florida must prove under Statute 895.03 the following:

  1. It is unlawful for any person who has with criminal intent received any proceeds derived, directly or indirectly, from a pattern of racketeering activity or through the collection of an unlawful debt to use or invest, whether directly or indirectly, any part of such proceeds, or the proceeds derived from the investment or use thereof, in the acquisition of any title to, or any right, interest, or equity in, real property or in the establishment or operation of any enterprise.
  2. It is unlawful for any person, through a pattern of racketeering activity or through the collection of an unlawful debt, to acquire or maintain, directly or indirectly, any interest in or control of any enterprise or real property.
  3. It is unlawful for any person employed by, or associated with, any enterprise to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in such enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity or the collection of an unlawful debt.
  4. It is unlawful for any person to conspire or endeavor to violate any of the provisions of subsection (1), subsection (2), or subsection (3).

In this case the State will have to show that even if one of the defendants never actually entered a store, but employed another to go in and steal from the stores, but still received proceeds from the theft, and it was an ongoing criminal enterprise, therefore violates Florida’s RICO laws.  Depending on how the investigation was conducted, it is common that Law Enforcement likely used confidential informants (CI’s) to purchase stolen merchandise from the individuals.  It is often standard practice to also “Flip” defendants against one another.  For example, Cowles is not charged as serious as the other three.  Often the State Attorney’s Office may reach out to Cowles to have her cooperate against the other three charged with the RICO offense to have a stronger chance of conviction.

To prove the Dealing in Stolen Property Counts the State of Florida will utilize Statute 812. Specifically looking at Chapter 812.019 the State will be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. Any person who traffics in, or endeavors to traffic in, property that he or she knows or should know was stolen shall be guilty of a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in ss. 775.082, 775.083, and 775.084.
  2. Any person who initiates, organizes, plans, finances, directs, manages, or supervises the theft of property and traffics in such stolen property shall be guilty of a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in ss. 775.082, 775.083, and 775.084.

Although only Cowles is currently charged with this crime, several others likely face similar charges.  What is also important to note is that the unidentified male who purchased the battery could also face a Dealing in Stolen Property charge.  The facts show that the unidentified male just happened to meet in a Popeyes parking lot to purchase the battery.  He did not go to Home Depot himself.

Dealing in Stolen Property is a second degree felony punishable by up to fifteen years in Florida State Prison.  Also on second degree felonies, the law requires an adjudication unless the State of Florida agrees to a withhold of adjudication or the Judge finds specific reasons to sentence to a withhold.  In other words, regardless if you have no prior record, the court is required to adjudicate you guilty, therefore becoming a convicted felon for life.

The overwhelming amount of charges the four face deal with Grand Theft or Petit Theft.  The reason there are two different charges will be based solely on the retail or price of the items stolen.

Under Florida Statute 812.014 the State must prove:

  1. A person commits theft if he or she knowingly obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or to use, the property of another with intent to, either temporarily or permanently:
  2. Deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property.
  3. Appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to the use of the property.

To become a Grand Theft, you would  look at 812.014(2)(c):

It is grand theft of the third degree and a felony of the third degree, punishable as             provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084, if the property stolen is:

1. Valued at $300 or more, but less than $5,000.

2. Valued at $5,000 or more, but less than $10,000.

3. Valued at $10,000 or more, but less than $20,000.

If an item was stolen that was less than $300 it would be a Petit Theft.

One individual count of Grand Theft can carry up to five years in Florida State Prison.  For the individuals facing 55 counts of Grand Theft they could receive 275 years in Florida State Prison.

What You Should do if Charged with a Theft or Property Crime

This large two year theft ring is certainly not the typical theft case individuals are charged with.  This case involved a two year long investigation with individuals facing close to sixty charges each.

Should you, a friend or a family member have the above have similar charges, consult with a Jacksonville (Duval), Nassau, Baker, Bradford, St. Johns and Clay County criminal defense attorney.  The Jacksonville based Forbess Law Firm, has handled countless numbers of theft cases involving grand theft, petit theft, employee theft, schemes to defraud, utterings, worthless checks, all the way from that simple pack of gum up to extremely complex white collar fraud cases.  The same can be said for narcotics related cases ranging from simple possession of marijuana up to complex conspiracy to traffic in illegal narcotics cases and investigations . We are always available to appear in first appearance court to argue for a reasonable bond as well as to argue for a denial when the State of Florida files a motion to revoke bond.  We always offer a free consultation and/or jail visit and can be reached at 904-634-0900.  Feel free to review both of our Attorney’s profiles to see our criminal defense experience as well as that both lawyers also have accounting degrees that are utilized in the review of any amount of money reportedly stolen.

https://www.news4jax.com/news/theft-ring-steals-at-least-83k-in-merchandise-from-home-improvement-stores