Central Berks Regional Police raided a home in St. Lawrence on April 1, 2019, as part of a large-scale fraud investigation and confiscated thousands of toys, video games and electronics.
The items were purchased online from retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and Target. The mastermind set up fraudulent accounts after recruiting people to provide their personal information for $500, according to authorities. He then added funds to those accounts and used prepaid credit cards to order the items.
Once delivered to various Berks addresses, the leader of the scheme would contact the retailers and report that they were never delivered. He would receive either a refund or free merchandise, which he would try to sell on eBay to double his profits, investigators said.
The scheme would be repeated over and over, resulting in what Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams said Tuesday was a massive collection of toys, games, video gaming stations, and entertainment media.
For many months, those items languished in a toy prison — a dreary evidence room in the Central Berks police station in Mount Penn. Police turned over the investigation to the FBI’s Allentown office for federal prosecution.
As the case advanced, Central Berks police thought about what they would do with all of those toys. They consulted with Adams on their idea to donate them to two local charitable organizations to bolster their toy drives and bring joy to children and their families who could use a little help.
Central Berks investigators negotiated an agreement with defendant Jose Galindo’s attorney whereby the seized toys and games would be donated to local charities, the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program and East Cocalico Township Police Department’s Kole’s Toy Drive organization. In return, Central Berks agreed not to file charges against him at the state level.
In June, a federal grand jury in Philadelphia handed down a 16-count indictment against Galindo. He’s being held in a state prison awaiting final disposition of charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and related counts.
With the novel coronavirus pandemic that began before Easter about to carry into the winter holiday season, the bounty couldn’t come at a better time, making the scheme perpetuated by Galindo a blessing in disguise, Adams and Central Berks Chief Ray Serafin said in a press conference conducted with the district attorney.
The beneficiary organizations agree with that sentiment.
“With the pandemic and everything, this is just a beautiful bounty that the unfortunate children of Berks County can benefit from,” said George Bolton of Mount Penn, a gunnery sergeant with the Marine Corps Reserve.
Dorothy Basile, Toys for Tots coordinator for Berks, said her organization is taking on 2½ times more families than a typical year because of the pandemic. Many churches and organizations that provide a safety net around the holidays have closed their doors or are struggling to keep operating.
Also, many of the businesses that would host collection boxes have closed their physical locations, and this is impacting donations, she said.
“So this is definitely going to be a huge help,” she said.
One of the Central Berks investigators, Joseph J. Taimanglo, devoted hours to meticulously stacking the toys by category in a semicircle in the basement of the station for the news conference.
The array included everything from sports and Star Wars collectible figures to Legos and Transformers action figures to Hot Wheels car and board games based on the Harry Potter and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchises.
In his 28 years of volunteering with Toys for Tots, Exeter Township police officer Rocco DeCamillo, a sergeant major in the Marine Corps Reserve, it's the first time a donation of toys resulted from a criminal investigation.
“The uniqueness of this is great, because we have electronics for the teenage kids, which is always the toughest group for the Toys for Tots, all the way down to Matchbox cars for the little kids,” he said.
Adams said it’s a first for him in his many years as district attorney.
“I think this is kind of an unusual situation where as a result of the execution of the search warrant, all of these toys were confiscated,” the prosecutor said. “The retailers did not want them back, and I want to thank them.
“We’re going to keep them and give them to these two wonderful charities so they can distribute them and give them to children who will appreciate them.”
Adams commended Central Berks investigators for reaching the agreement to allow the toys to be donated. He said it’s another example of law enforcement throughout Berks doing things to enhance their communities and helping those in need.
For anyone who would like to add to the haul, the Toys for Tots collection box will be in the Central Berks station at 2147 Perkiomen Ave. through mid-December, officials said.