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Dave Roepke, Published November 28 2010

Restitution won’t cover Fargo Best Buy losses

Restitution to be paid by 12 men convicted in a theft ring at Best Buy in Fargo will cover little more than one-quarter of the property not recovered by police.

Stipulations setting the repayment amounts have been filed in Cass County District Court for nine of the dozen men, all of whom pleaded guilty after being charged with theft-related felonies earlier this year.

Seven of the nine are for $1,800, and Tracy Peters, an assistant state’s attorney in Cass County, said that two other agreements reached but not yet filed in court records are also for $1,800.

Also, one stipulation for $1,800 was misfiled and will be amended to $1,000, said Tanya Johnson Martinez, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney.

The agreements, which took into account the role each person played in the theft ring as well as their ability to pay, haven’t required much negotiation.

“They were mostly accepted as offered,” Peters said.

Prosecutors were seeking higher amounts for three of the men implicated in the inside-job theft ring, which was facilitated by a pair of Best Buy security officers.

The security guards have agreed to restitution. The man police described as the leader of the theft ring, Adetimisola Ogundipe, was ordered to pay $6,000, while the second loss-prevention agent, Paul J. Larson, will pay back $2,300.

The eight agreements at $1,800, plus the $1,000 and the restitution from Ogundipe and Larson, adds up to $23,700 in payments promised in deals already set.

But Best Buy said it lost $150,000 in goods when the thefts were occurring from September 2009 through February 2010.

About $50,000 of that was recovered before charges were filed, goods obtained both directly from those involved and via a search warrant executed in Sauk Rapids, Minn., where one of the men had items stored in his mother’s garage.

That leaves $100,000 that Best Buy hasn’t recovered.

Anthony Rocco Martin, the man who was storing stolen goods at his mom’s, is the only defendant who hasn’t yet agreed on the amount to be repaid. Peters said prosecutors are seeking more than the base $1,800 from Martin, but she wouldn’t say how much.

Even if Martin is ordered to pay the $6,000 Ogundipe owes, which prosecutors said was the highest restitution amount, the total would be $29,700 – less than 30 percent of the value of the missing merchandise, which included numerous high-end electronics such as big-screen televisions.

Store officials have declined to comment on the thefts, but Peters said that prosecutors consulted with Best Buy representatives in seeking restitution.

Peters said store officials were OK with what was being offered, though they would have liked more.

“Did they want a check for the full amount they were out? Sure, they did,” Peters said.

Martin, who is serving a 120-day sentence in a St. Cloud, Minn., county jail, is scheduled for a restitution hearing Jan. 19. While many of the defendants have set hearings, they’re only held if the attorneys can’t reach a settlement.

Martin’s restitution may need to be hashed out in court, said Tanya Johnson Martinez, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney.

“It sounds like he’s not agreeable, so there might actually be a hearing on that,” she said.

Mark Beauchene, defense attorney for Martin, said all he could say is there’s no resolution yet, though he struck a positive note.

“Nine times out of 10, we resolve it,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535