Lebanese Brothers Sentenced for Leading $30 Million Organized Retail Crime Operation in Houston
Two naturalized U.S. citizens from Lebanon, Yasser Saleh Ouwad, 52, and his brother Bilal Saleh Awad, 50, have been sentenced for their involvement in large-scale organized retail crime schemes, as announced by U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.
Ouwad and Awad entered guilty pleas on Oct. 12, 2021, and Oct. 30, 2019, respectively, for conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise. U.S. District Judge Randy Crane has ordered Ouwad to serve 41 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Ouwad is also required to forfeit over $260,000 from bank accounts, representing the proceeds of the sale of stolen merchandise, and pay a money judgment of $4,665,860 along with restitution of $109,742 to CVS Health and Walgreens.
According to Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the criminal organization led by the brothers was responsible for the theft of more than $30 million in retail goods. The organized retail crime impacted consumers, leading to higher prices and potential closures of businesses providing essential goods and services to communities.
From June 2015 to March 2018, Ouwad and Awad engaged in high-level fencing operations involving multi-million-dollar, multi-state level criminal organizations. They purchased stolen over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, diabetic test strips, and health and beauty supplies, which were repackaged and shipped. The criminal enterprise employed “boosters,” primarily undocumented aliens from Central America, to steal OTC medication from large retailers across the United States.
Ouwad operated GPS Wholesale Inc. in Houston, where stolen products were received, anti-theft stickers removed, and merchandise repackaged for shipment to wholesale companies in New Jersey. Awad ran a similar operation, receiving stolen merchandise in Houston and repackaging it at his residence before shipping to a wholesale company in New York.
The criminal enterprises led by Ouwad and Awad resulted in over $13 million in losses to retailers between both charged schemes. Awad was previously sentenced to 41 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution and forfeit assets.
Co-defendants in the case, who pleaded guilty, received sentences ranging from 18-40 months. Ouwad and Awad have been permitted to remain on bond and will voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.