Reporting Mike Krauser
UPDATED 11/16/10 8:52 a.m.
FLOSSMOOR, Ill. (WBBM) - You’ve heard of vacant homes being used for illegal purposes. But police in south suburban Flossmoor have seen a new one.
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Flossmoor police busted two men who were alleged to be acting as middle-men in an international theft ring.
Gideon Owusu, 25, and Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, 26, both of the 1500 block of Burnham Avenue, were arrested and charged with felony theft last week as they picked up suspicious packages at a vacant house in Flossmoor.
They were picking up fraudulently purchased computers and other merchandise at vacant homes.
Flossmoor police were given a heads-up by FedEx investigators that 25 Hewlett-Packard computers, worth a total of more than $30,000, were to be delivered to a vacant house in the 1600 block of Lawrence Crescent in Flossmoor, police said. The address had been flagged after 10 HP desktop computers, fraudulently billed to an upper Midwest state that police would not identify because the investigation is ongoing, were delivered to the same house Oct. 5.
Police arranged to have just three of the 25 computers to be delivered to the house Nov. 9.
“We tried to do a control shipment. We didn’t want to be stuck with 25 computers if they (the suspects) didn’t show up. It made the operation more manageable,” Detective Sgt. Jim Hundley said Monday.
While police staked out the vacant home, a Nissan Maxima driven by Akoto-Bamfo, and a Kia Optima, driven by Owusu, drove up a half-hour after the three computers were delivered, police said. The men loaded the computers into their cars but were detained by police before they could leave the driveway.
Owusu told police the two men met while attending high school in Ghana, Africa. They paired up earlier this year when Owusu, who was living in New Jersey, visited Akoto-Bamfo at his Dolton residence, police said. In October, they both moved into an apartment in Calumet City.
Akoto-Bamfo, who worked at a Chicago-area realty company, told police he was working with others he knew from Ghana and Vietnam by supplying them with addresses of vacant homes, police said. Among the 17 addresses Akoto-Bamfo supplied were vacant houses in Flossmoor, Burbank, Harvey and Chicago Heights and on Chicago’s South Side.
He was told by accomplices which houses to visit to pick up shipments of computers, clothing and jewelry. Akoto-Bamfo said he went to the homes under the guise of doing work for the realty company.
Akoto-Bamfo told police the computers eventually were shipped to Ghana to be sold.
Police said there were 110 computers set up to be purchased fraudulently and sent in five separate shipments to the Flossmoor house and residences in Calumet City and on the South Side.
Police were able to confiscate 25 computers Nov. 9 and intercepted 55 more marked for shipment at the Hammond, Ind., FedEx terminal on Wednesday and Thursday. Another 21 were found in Akoto-Bamfo’s Calumet City apartment.
Nine of the 10 computers sent Oct. 5 to the Flossmoor home already had been shipped to Ghana, Akoto-Bamfo told police.
“We were able to account for 101 of the 110 computers,” Hundley said. “We believe this is part of a larger group that has been working similar thefts nationwide. We’ve worked with FedEx and the (U.S Postal Inspection Service) on this.”
The ring also has connections in Vietnam, where some immigrants from Ghana have settled, Hundley said.
Owusu and Akoto-Bamfo were released on bond and are due back in the Markham courthouse Dec. 8 for a preliminary hearing.
A Hewlett-Packard spokeswoman declined to comment.
The SouthtownStar contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire