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Macungie area residents charged in retail theft ring

Two Macungie area residents and three others were charged in June in an organized retail theft ring targeting big box home improvement stores in three counties, according to authorities.

In a news release, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and Lower Pottsgrove Township Police Chief Rick Bell announced the arrests of Joseph A. Payea and Penelope Lynn McClain.

Payea and McClain allegedly headed a retail theft enterprise, primarily targeting Home Depot and Lowe’s stores, in Berks, Lehigh and Montgomery counties.

The news release details the case as follows:

In December 2021, Lower Pottsgrove Police investigators concluded then recent area retail thefts were done by a network of people working together to take various yet specific items including power tools, generators and electrical wiring.

The merchandise was later resold through social media, personal sales and through what authorities describe as “high volume mud sales.”

Payea allegedly used social media or texts to distribute shopping lists.

Those who received the lists, many of whom authorities describe as “suffering from substance abuse disorder,” then allegedly removed power tools, including Milwaukee and DeWalt brands, as well as other items to fulfill the shopping lists.

Next, the tools were sold at as much as 60 to 80 percent below market value, according to the news release.

Payea and McClain allegedly paid cash for the stolen items, paying approximately 40 to 50 percent of the retail value of the items.

Those who allegedly stole for the ring often used the cash they were paid to buy illegal drugs, according to authorities.

Investigating agencies included the Montgomery County and Lehigh County detective bureaus, Lower Pottsgrove Township Police and Pennsylvania State Police as well as loss prevention personnel at Home Depot and Lowe’s stores.

At the time of the arrests of Payea and McClain in June, search warrants uncovered a large quantity of tools described by authorities as “mostly new, in unopened, store-packaged boxes.”

Items recovered included:

•500 tools and tool components

•Approximately 50 chain saws

•67 spools of electrical wire

Loss prevention personnel from the stores evaluated what was recovered to learn where the items were stolen and the price of each item. It was estimated the total value of the merchandise uncovered through the search warrants topped $99,700. Cash totaling $88,444 also was seized, including marked bills used in the investigation.

In prepared comments included in the news release, Steele noted Payea and McClain allegedly made more than $50,000 in one day’s sale of stolen items at a mud sale.

McClain and Payea are each charged with allegedly operating a corrupt organization, conspiracy, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, organized retail theft, criminal use of a communications facility, receiving stolen property and criminal solicitation to commit retail theft, according to authorities.