The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has announced the search of multiple businesses in recent weeks for allegedly buying and reselling stolen merchandise.

In October 2014, the county created the Heroin Task Force to investigate heroin use and seek out the funding sources of the heroin trade. One of the most common funding sources is the sale of property obtained in burglaries of homes and businesses. 

After months of investigation, the sheriff’s office obtained search warrants for a handful of county retail businesses and executed them on March 5.

In cooperation with Lake County Narcotics Agency, Painesville Police Department, Wickliffe Police Department and the State of Ohio Investigative Unit, authorities searched Dairy Mart at 31 Fern Drive in Painesville, Wickliffe Food Mart at 28926 Euclid Ave. in Wickliffe, and Spinners Discount Tobacco and Beverage at 29726 Euclid Ave. in Wickliffe.

“Well over $100,000 in U.S. currency was seized, and the owners of these establishments are being charged with receiving stolen property at these locations. Further, they will be facing administrative charges from the Ohio Investigative Unit for licensing violations,” Lake County Sheriff Dan Dunlap said in a news release.

Investigators learned that people, including those looking to support a heroin addiction, allegedly stole items from “big box stores” and then sold them to the small retail stores, Dunlap said.

“In a major way, their thefts were impacting not only the business owners in our community, but indirectly our citizen consumers who pay an increased cost for items purchased as the result of such theft,” he said.

Greg A. Croft, the agent in charge of the Ohio Investigative Unit, said the investigation should be a warning to all retailers who resell stolen goods, according to the news release.

“Through the purchase of these stolen items, business owners are directly contributing to the narcotics problems our communities are facing every day, and it cannot be tolerated,” Croft said.

Additional search warrants were executed by the sheriff’s office, LCNA and Willoughby police on March 20 at two “cash for gold” locations: Ohio Gold and Coins at 259 Richmond St. in Painesville and Gold N Merchant at 4829 Robinhood Drive in Willoughby.

Authorities allegedly seized more than $8,000 in U.S. currency and are sending the cases to the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office. Charges could include receiving stolen property, money laundering and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, Dunlap said.

While the investigation is ongoing, Dunlap said the businesses allegedly bought stolen gold, silver and coins for “pennies on the dollar” and did not obtain the identity of those selling the items, which is required by law.

In a separate phone interview, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Frank Leonbruno said that no one has been taken into custody yet, as the potential charges are still being reviewed. Some charges may likely be brought against the businesses as a whole and not individuals.

When police arrived at the locations, the businesses also were cooperative and no one was injured during any of the search warrant executions, Leonbruno said.

“These investigations should act as a warning that Lake County is not a place to come to trade your stolen goods,” Leonbruno said. The sheriff’s office hopes to continue to act as a funnel to gather information from many police agencies in the county and then work together to battle crime and the funding of drug activity.

By Matt Skrajner, The News-Herald