Man sentenced for using addicts to defraud Home Depot

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — A Detroit man used drug addicts and homeless people to steal at least $600,000 in merchandise from Home Depot stores in southeastern Michigan over the past 18 months, authorities said.

Adelbert Ackerman, also known as Aldelbert Lovett, was sentenced Wednesday by Oakland Circuit Court Judge Shalina Kumar to four years and six months to 40 years in prison for conducting the criminal enterprise and 18 months each for two first-degree retail fraud offenses.

As part of his sentence, Ackerman is also banned from Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement store chain.

Police first became aware of Ackerman, 46, when, during a November 2014 raid in Detroit, they found stacks of Home Depot merchandise, still carrying price tags, scattered around the address, along with Home Depot store value cards, wrapped in receipts. They first believed the property — stacked in piles totaling $200 — was being exchanged for drugs.

Instead, they found the items were being prepared to return to Home Depot to exchange for cards good for additional store merchandise.

“We were working on an unrelated narcotics case,” said Lt. Brent Miles, who heads the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team. “(Ackerman’s) activities involved an almost daily practice of picking up and dropping people off at Home Depot stores in several communities and then driving them back to areas, including several homeless shelters. It was suspicious.”

After months of surveillance and the help of informants used by Ackerman, police learned the scheme went like this:

Ackerman, whose only known legitimate past employment was as a used car salesman, would first recruit heroin addicts and offer them money for stealing expensive tools and other items from Home Depot stores . Ackerman would send them into stores with lists of what he wanted them to steal and would wait outside for them.

“He never went inside himself,” Miles said. “He would send them in, drive them away and then at a later time, pick up people at homeless shelters and return the stolen items to different stores, without store receipts, and obtain the store credit cards.

“He would pay the addicts 20 to 40 cents on the dollar for the stolen items,” Miles said. “He would later bag up the property for homeless people he would drive to area stores to return the property. He would pay them cash, again a few cents on every dollar, to take back the merchandise. When they got back in his car they would hand over the credit cards for the calculated amounts he knew he was due.”

Home Depot policy — which was recently tightened up as a result of the Ackerman case — allowed only of two items without a receipt per identification. But Ackerman had a large pool of people with government-provided IDs which made it possible to return to some stores and spread out to others.

Homeless people have an ID they use for help from state and federal social service programs.

“He had people lined up outside homeless shelters — every day — ready and eager to make a few bucks,” Miles said. “It spread by word of mouth they could make money for a couple hours of their time.”

Among them, but unknown to Ackerman, were two narcotics enforcement team confidential informants whom he selected to return property and who secretly recorded the transactions and his conversations with them.

The final transaction was selling off the credit cards, Miles said.

“Some cards would be sold to contractors across Metro Detroit for a substantial discount,” Miles said. “They could go to the stores for tools, construction materials, whatever.

“Others would be exchanged at pawn shops willing to pay 60 cents on the dollar for the cards.”

Ackerman was arrested on March 31 in Detroit where he had been watched loading merchandise into Home Depot bags before driving to a homeless shelter.

No one else has been charged with criminal wrongdoing and several of the people involved are cooperating as witnesses, investigators said.

In April, while out on bond, Ackerman was initially charged with attempted witness intimidation, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, involving one of the informants. He pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of assault and battery, a misdemeanor offense with a 90-day penalty.

Home Depot loss prevention officers tallied up thefts attributed to the Ackerman scheme of at least $600,000, Miles said.

Ackerman lived a very comfortable, but not extravagant, lifestyle, Miles said. While he perpetrated his scheme during the day, at night he blew thousands of dollars gambling, investigators said.

In exchange for pleading no contest to the offenses, a third retail fraud charge and a receiving and stealing stolen property offense were dismissed, each felonies punishable by up to five years in prison, according to Ackerman’s attorney, Mitchell Ribitwer.

“He seemed pretty smooth and not that rattled about going off to prison,” Ribitwer said. “It was almost as if he accepted it as his fate and the price for having illegally made hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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