International thief pleads guilty to fraud in Missouri

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A man from Canada pleaded guilty Friday to using sleight of hand and other ruses to steal more than $109,000 from retailers in at least 11 states during a nearly six-month crime spree.

As part of his guilty plea to wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property, Mohsen Akbari, 38, admitted entering the U.S. on March 1, 2023, from South Korea on a visitor visa. He then traveled to Missouri, Illinois, and at least 11 other states, where he targeted Walmart stores and other retailers. After making a small purchase, Akbari would use a ruse to trick store employees into handing over cash. Akbari sometimes claimed that he and his family collected $100 bills and would ask the cashier to show him those from the cash register so he could examine them. Akbari would then surreptitiously place some of the bills into his sleeve or pocket.

Locally, Akbari stole a total of $2,420 from a Walmart in St. Peters, Missouri, on June 12, 2023, $6,900 from a Granite City, Illinois, store on June 13, $420 from an O’Fallon, Missouri, store on June 14, and $900 from a store in Warrenton, Missouri, on the same day. He stole $580 from a Walmart in Eureka, Missouri, and $5,100 from an Arnold, Missouri, Walmart on June 15.

Akbari was arrested on Aug. 22, 2023, in Connecticut with $5,388 in U.S. currency and 150 Australian dollars derived from the scheme. Akbari admitted stealing a total of $109,452. Authorities seized $69,864 from two of Akbari’s bank accounts. Akbari also wired some money to Canada.

Akbari is scheduled to be sentenced on March 1, 2024. The wire fraud charge carries a potential penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. The interstate transportation of stolen property charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and the same fine.

Homeland Security Investigations, the Eureka Police Department, and the Arnold Police Department investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Bateman is prosecuting the case.

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