(CBS4) – A 36-year-old Aurora man was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to 66 months in federal prison following a decade-long operation to sell stolen goods via online marketplaces. Saurabh Chawla pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen goods and tax evasion.
According to court documents, Chawla purchased stolen goods valued at $3.5 million between 2009 and 2019 with the help of three primary co-conspirators: James Bender, Kristy Stock and Joseph Kukta.
In a press release, federal prosecutors said Bender controlled and operated multiple online eBay and Amazon accounts, including “HiddenGemFurniture” (“HGF”), “EddiesAffordableGear” (“EAG”) and “AffordableGoodies4You” (“AG”). The 36-year-old Baltimore resident offered use of his accounts in exchange for a cut of the Chawla’s sales. With Bender’s help, Chawla offered and sold a large amount of stolen goods and merchandise for sale through HGF, other eBay stores, and other online marketplaces. At one point, Chawla had 400 active listings for goods and products on eBay.
Stock, according to prosecutors, was a New Mexico public school employee responsible for overseeing a program to provide Apple iPods intended to benefit underprivileged Native American children in New Mexico. The 46-year-old Stock stole more than 3,000 iPods purchased by the school district, valued at more than $1 million, and sold them to Chawla. Stock admitted that she received more than $800,000 in illegal proceeds from selling the stolen iPods.
Kukta, 45, was a FedEx employee in a Delaware facility. He obtained most of the items he sold to Chawla from bulk purchases shipped via FedEx and marked for delivery to FedEx customers, including a Walmart Distribution Center in Smyrna, Delaware. Kukta discreetly avoided detection by the delivery company and shipped stolen items to a relative of Chawla in Maryland.
In addition, Chawla also filed fraudulent tax returns for eight of the years the stolen goods scheme was in operation. This was done, according to prosecutors, but falsely inflating the costs of goods sold and underreporting his adjusted gross income. Chawla was also deemed partly responsible for his Delaware relative’s tax evasion.
Chawla was ordered to immediately pay $713,619 in restitution to the IRS. The judge’s decision regarding possibly restitution for the stolen goods was delayed until Dec. 3.
Chawla has to report to the Bureau of Prisons to serve his term by Dec. 6.
Chawla was the focus of a 2015 dispute with his Aurora neighbors over his AirBnB rental activity, as reported by the Aurora Sentinel.