Criminals apprehended due to spelling error
By Damon Marturion
New Business News Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES - How do you spell sergeant? A group of bumbling,
would-be gold thieves didn't know, and that led to their downfall.
The simple spelling error -- the alleged villains spelt it "sargent" -- led
federal agents this week to arrest four men who allegedly posed as U.S.
military personnel and tried to get a precious metals firm to ship gold
products to a phony NASA address, officials said Thursday.
Macaluso, Alexander Drabkin, Daniel Patterson and Michael Itaev, were
charged Wednesday in a Los Angeles federal court with mail fraud, officials
said. They were also accused of posing as employees of NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., to obtain industrial gold
products from Boston-based Stern-Leach Co.
The men were in custody in Los
Angeles while prosecutors sought to move them to Boston for a trial. If
convicted, each could face up to five years in prison plus three years of
supervised release and a $250,000 fine, officials said. A Department of
Defense spokesman confirmed the arrests on Thursday.
Agents from the
Department of Defense arrested the suspects Tuesday after an elaborate
sting operation sparked by a spelling error and a hunch. According to court
documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times and published in Thursday's
editions, Patterson posed as a military officer named "Sargent" Michael
Jeffries working in San Diego who sought to have gold parts delivered to a
"neutron accelerator project" located at a non-existent JPL office.
Officials at the real JPL, which is at a different address in Pasadena,
said they had no knowledge of the scheme.
After Patterson called a
Stern-Leach representative several weeks ago, order forms were sent by fax
and express mail to the phony JPL office in east Pasadena for 120 sheets of
gold, large amounts of 12- and 14-gauge gold wire and 80 ounces of gold
"shot," according to the Times. However the contact on the order form was
listed as "Sargent" Michael Jeffries, a spelling error which caused company
employees to pause.
Patterson also asked that the gold be shipped via the
courier company UPS, rather than by armored car, which seemed highly
Company officials reported the incident to the FBI which referred
the case to the Department of Defense.
After federal agents determined that
there was no Sgt. Jeffries listed in San Diego and that faxes sent from
Patterson to Stern-Leach originated from a Pasadena Mail Boxes Etc. store,
they wiretapped the phone lines of the phony JPL office and eventually made
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