Bison football players among 12 charged in Best Buy inside-job theft ring
Two Bison football players and others connected to area collegiate athletics are among 12 people charged in an inside-job theft ring at Fargo's Best Buy that may total as much as $150,000.
Cass County prosecutors filed felony theft charges against 11 people Wednesday, tying them to a Best Buy security guard charged last month with recruiting others to repeatedly push carts full of electronics out of the store without paying for them.
Ten of the 12 charged are either current or former NDSU students, and many of them have ties to athletic programs at NDSU or Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Police and prosecutors called it a complex case, both with the number of people involved and the total dollar amount of the thefts.
"We handle many theft cases in our office, but none really of the magnitude of this one," said Tracy Peters, assistant Cass County state's attorney.
Best Buy reports it lost $150,000 worth of merchandise between last September and February, Peters said. However, it's unknown if all of those thefts are connected to this case.
Police so far have recovered $50,000 in merchandise, said Lt. Pat Claus.
Bison football players Garrett Johnson and Gregory Reid Jr. are among those facing theft charges. They were suspended while under investigation and kicked off the team Wednesday after charges were filed.
MSUM football player Anthony Sands also is charged. Sands was suspended in early March, when MSUM officials learned of the theft investigation as well as a drunken driving charge he's facing, said MSUM Athletic Director Doug Peters.
Court records say:
Adetimisola Ogundipe and Paul J. Larson work as security guards for Best Buy and allowed at least 10 people to remove high-end electronics from the store.
Ogundipe, who was the first one charged last month, and Larson each face two Class C felony charges.
The people involved would be told what items to get, pick out something for themselves and then walk out the front door with the cart when one of the security guards gave a signal.
In some cases, Ogundipe would text or call someone involved when the manager was gone.
The items ranged from 52-inch TVs that cost more than $1,000 and iRobot vacuum cleaners to video game systems and DVDs.
As many as seven TVs were stolen in one day, and Ogundipe's home became known as "Best Buy Jr."
In some cases, the people kept the stolen property, while other times it was sold to individuals or sold on the Internet.
One defendant, Anthony Rocco Martin, is accused of visiting Best Buy multiple times in one day and selling some of the merchandise in St. Cloud, Minn. He's the only one charged with a Class B felony.
These individuals are charged with one Class C felony each: Reid, Johnson, Sands, Chernel Kidzugane Magaga, Clarence Puty Taye, Christopher Michael Griffin, Daniel Jerome Offerman Jr., Jeffery M. Ingersol and Sheiku Tejan Deen.
Prosecutor Tracy Peters said warrants either had or will be issued for the defendants.
The investigation is still ongoing and it's possible more people could be charged, she said.
Peters said she's not sure how the defendants are connected, other than they're all about the same age and affiliated with area colleges.
NDSU President Dick Hanson referred questions to athletic officials.
Athletic Director Gene Taylor said coaches have to be ready to make hard decisions when players misstep, which head coach Craig Bohl did by kicking the players off the team.
"It's certainly disappointing that those young men got themselves involved in something like this," Taylor said. "They've got kind of a long battle ahead of them."
The others charged that have NDSU ties were not recruited athletes or players that coaches spent a lot of time with, Taylor said.
"When you have 100 and some football players and some come out and say, 'I'm going to walk on, coach,' you let them walk on," Taylor said. "Most of them don't last very long. I worry more about the kids we recruit and spend time with."
Bohl and the players cooperated with the police investigation and Bohl assisted police in arranging access to the players, Taylor said.
At MSUM, Doug Peters said Sands' suspension will be evaluated at the end of the semester.
"Obviously, I'm very disappointed," Peters said. "It's not the standard of behavior we have with our student-athletes. At this point we believe that this has been an exception to the rule of the behavior of our student-athletes."
A Best Buy employee said managers would not comment on the case.
Attempts to reach the defendants were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Three of the defendants had lawyers that prosecutors were aware of on Wednesday.
A recent attempt to reach Ogundipe's lawyer, Patrick O'Day, was not successful.
Martin's attorney, Mark Beauchene, and Larson's attorney, Jade Rosenfeldt, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Martin is set to appear in court on Friday for an arraignment. The court dates for the other 10 charged Wednesday have not been set.
Ogundipe has a preliminary hearing scheduled April 22.
A closer look at the charges
Twelve suspects will face varying theft charges in Cass County District Court in connection with a ring of alleged thefts at the Best Buy in Fargo. Information about the police allegations comes from court records, and information on school and team affiliations come from university officials.
Charged with accomplice to theft of property as a Class B felony and theft of property as a Class C felony:
Adetimisola Ifeoluwa Ogundipe, 19
The first suspect charged, on March 24, Ogundipe had been working security at Best Buy and is accused of recruiting friends to take items out of the store while he was working. Police say the former NDSU football walk-on kept in contact with team members, some of whom he recruited.
He and Paul Larson both worked as store security. Ogundipe said that Larson coordinated the alleged thefts, while Larson told police that it was Ogundipe who first approached him.
It's alleged that he personally stole goods worth more than $5,000, such as computers and game systems. Asked by police to turn over stolen goods from his home, he initially provided authorities with two televisions, a vacuum cleaner, a surround-sound speaker system and video game accessories.
Born in Nigeria, he told police he was worried he'd be deported if charged with a felony.
Affiliation: Current NDSU student who practiced with the Bison football team as a walk-on but was never on the roster.
Charged with accomplice to theft of property as a Class C felony and theft of property as a Class C felony:
Paul J. Larson, 22
He was named by Ogundipe as the "coordinator" of the thefts, but Larson told police it was Ogundipe who first approached him.
Larson was interviewed by police three times and told detectives Ogundipe was recruiting his friends, including football players.
He told police that those involved would load up a shopping cart and push it out the door while he or Ogundipe were working. In one instance, at least seven televisions were taken in one day, he told police.
Police told Larson that they weren't interested in pursuing charges of possessing stolen merchandise except against those who wouldn't give their stolen goods back.
More than $9,600 in goods were returned by Larson, police allege, such as TVs, game systems, DVDs, video games, cameras and iPods.
Affiliation: Current NDSU student.
Charged with theft of property as a Class B felony:
Anthony Rocco Martin, 20
A confidential informant told police that Martin was storing stolen goods from the Fargo Best Buy in his mother's garage in Sauk Rapids, Minn. Executing a search warrant, police in Sauk Rapids seized about $20,000 of stolen Best Buy items from her garage.
Martin said Ogundipe would give a sign to indicate it was OK to wheel the carts full of items out the door, Daniel Offerman told investigators.
Offerman also told police that Martin had bragged to him that he'd taken about $50,000 worth of goods from Best Buy. Martin allegedly had someone to sell stolen goods for him in the area of St. Cloud, Minn., where Martin lived.
Affiliation: Attended NDSU through spring of 2009. Was suspended by residence life for behavioral issues.
Charged with theft of property as a Class C felony:
Gregory Reid Jr., 20
Police say Reid told him he was too nervous the first time he tried and ended up not taking anything from the store, but he later came to call Ogundipe's home "Best Buy Jr."
Ogundipe once told him that he made $1,000 in one week allegedly running a theft ring, Reid told cops.
He returned merchandise valued at more than $2,000, according to police, including three video game systems, a 42-inch plasma TV and some $300 headphones.
Affiliation: Current NDSU student who was a backup defensive tackle until getting kicked off the team Wednesday.
Garrett Fetters Johnson, 21
Johnson told police that Ogundipe, his neighbor, would send him a text message letting him know the manager was gone at the store, and he would then come to Best Buy, fill up a cart and walk out the door.
After Ogundipe was first questioned by store personnel, Johnson told police that he came to Johnson's apartment to store some video game systems and video games. Johnson said he soon got nervous and told Ogundipe to take the green suitcase full of stolen goods somewhere else.
Merchandise that Johnson returned included a 37-inch TV valued at $1,150, two Xbox systems and numerous other items.
Affiliation: Current NDSU student who was the starting defensive end until getting kicked off the team Wednesday.
Anthony Alexander Sands, 20
Sands told police he went to Best Buy three times but didn't steal anything the first time. He returned to police an Xbox Elite system, a GPS unit, two TVs and other items.
Affiliation: Current MSUM student who was suspended in early March from the football team. He is an offensive lineman. He also faces a drunken-driving charge in Clay County. His suspension will be re-evaluated at the end of the semester.
Jeffery M. Ingersol, 24
Ingersol worked at Best Buy, but not as a security guard. He told police he was approached by Ogundipe to steal items. The arrangement was Ingersol would acquire some merchandise for Ogundipe and in turn take something for himself. He told police he did this four times.
He returned stolen items including an iRobot Roomba vacuum and several CDs and DVDs.
Affiliation: Former Valley City State University basketball player. He has not been a student at VCSU for at least the past two years.
Christopher Michael Griffin, 19
Griffin told police he was asked by Ogundipe if he wanted to take some items while Ogundipe was working. He said he did this four times, twice with Offerman and twice by himself. He told police he took about 10 items, including six or seven game systems that he sold on the Internet.
Affiliation: A former NDSU student who's listed on the NDSU Web site with the track team, but he was academically ineligible and never competed.
Clarence Puty Taye, 19
When a police detective sent Taye a text message concerning the thefts, he was at the police station about an hour later with a duffel bag full of items he admitted were stolen. Police said he returned about $2,000 worth of goods.
Affiliation: Current NDSU student who expressed interest in playing football, but his paperwork didn't clear and he was never on the roster.
Daniel Jerome Offerman Jr., 19
Offerman told police that the first time he heard of the alleged scam was early last fall, when Ogundipe and Martin told him they had just taken three TVs.
He told police he'd been in Best Buy to take items at least twice and had sold some of them on the Internet. Police said he returned $3,400 in stolen goods.
Affiliation: Former NDSU student. The Bison signed Offerman to play football, but he was academically ineligible and never played. He is now listed in the MSUM student directory. He participated in some workouts with the MSUM football team, but was never on the roster.
Chernel Kidzugane Magaga, 19
Magaga told police he took merchandise out of the store for both Larson and Ogundipe, and that he sold some of the electronics he took, including an Xbox and a laptop computer.
Affiliation: Ogundipe's roommate. Former NDSU student who last attended this past fall.
Sheiku Tejan Deen, 20
Deen told police he was at lunch with a bunch of football players when he heard them talking about the thefts and Ogundipe explained how it worked. Deen told police he went on three Best Buy trips, but only stole stuff for himself once. He returned to police a TV and a surround-sound system.
Affiliation: Current NDSU student.