Demanding ‘law and order,’ NYC Mayor Adams and state AG James announce bust of $3.8M shoplifting ring

·3 min read

Mayor Adams joined State Attorney General Letitia James on Thursday to announce the takedown of a $3.8 million shoplifting ring led by a “greedy” Queens boss who had a cadre of thieves steal goods all over the city on his behalf before he’d resell the items online.

Adams, who made shoplifting an early priority of his tough-on-crime agenda, said the 41-member retail theft ring was able to operate due to an “erosion of quality of life in our city” and that breaking it up sends an important message to New Yorkers.

“This is not a city where you can walk into a store, take what you want and walk out,” Adams said, standing alongside James at her downtown Manhattan office in front of a table displaying some of the goods nabbed by the shoplifters. “It’s a city of law and order, not a city of law and disorder.”

The alleged crime syndicate was spearheaded by Roni Rubinov, a 42-year-old Fresh Meadows man charged with a laundry list of corruption, money laundering and conspiracy charges for his role in the scheme.

According to an indictment unsealed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Rubinov and two “managers,” Yuriy Khodzhandiyev and Rafik Israilov, directed dozens of “boosters” to steal specific items from stores across the city.

The stolen items included everything from clothing from upscale department stores like Bloomingdale’s to over-the-counter medication from pharmacies, cosmetics and even musical instruments, according to the indictment.

After going on their runs, the shoplifters would bring the loot back to a couple of pawn shops owned by Rubinov in Manhattan, where he and other members of the ring would allegedly prepare the goods for sale via an eBay site after first pawning them in order to hide their origin. The operation, which began in 2017, at one point became so large that Rubinov leased a warehouse in Fresh Meadows to store the goods.

In total, prosecutors said Rubinov sold nearly $1.4 million worth of stolen items via the eBay site. When a team of local, state and federal authorities busted the Rubinov ring, they retrieved $3.8 million worth of stolen stuff, officials said.

“Shoplifting is often dismissed, when it destroys the economy,” Adams said. “It stops jobs and hurts the bottom line of those who are doing business in the city.”

James agreed and added: “A functioning economy is critical in capitalism. Any disruption to that obviously impacts our economy overall.”

Critics of Adams’ hardline crime crackdown have said his focus on “quality of life” offenses — like shoplifting, fare evasion and public drinking — disproportionately impacts low-income Black and Brown New Yorkers. When he first announced a renewed focus on the quality of life crimes in March, the reform-minded Legal Aid Society accused Adams of pulling the city back to the Mayor Giuliani era of “broken-windows policing” — a characterization Adams has vehemently disputed.

Still, NYPD Deputy Inspector Nicholas Fiore, who helped lead the Rubinov investigation, acknowledged that the people the alleged Queens crime kingpin relied on to do his dirty work were disenfranchised New Yorkers in need of a job.

“Rubinoff himself preys on the weak, preys on people who have tremendous narcotics crime history, tremendous petty crime history and was able to pay them during tough times,” he said, adding that the shoplifting became “like a job” for many of the defendants now facing charges.

Rubinov and his “managers” can face upward of 25 years in prison if convicted on the top counts, as can many of the “boosters” who participated in the scheme.

Signaling his awareness of the pushback he has previously faced for cracking down on shoplifting, Adams said breaking up the Rubinov ring was not about “criminalizing poverty.”

“No,” he said. “This was greed.”