Mafia case enters home improvement channel

A sweeping indictment unsealed last week by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, N.J., alleges a far-reaching criminal enterprise engaged in illegal gambling, extortion, loan sharking, labor racketeering and a fraud scheme involving a Lowe’s store in Paterson, N.J. Members of both the Gambino and the Lucchese crime families were named in the indictment, which charged 23 individuals and capped a two-year investigation by the FBI.

One of the defendants, India Fugate, worked as a 28-year-old customer service associate at Lowe’s in Paterson, N.J. According to the indictment, Fugate fraudulently obtained personal identification information from Lowe’s customers and, with the help of Gambino family member Andrew Merola, used the information to open store credit cards and purchase merchandise.

The indictment describes a second scheme where Fugate and other organized crime figures created fake bar codes that enabled them to fraudulently purchase goods from Lowe’s, Home Depot, Best Buy, Circuit City and other New Jersey stores. The items, which included power tools, were allegedly purchased at greatly reduced prices.

Other parts of the indictment allege betting on sporting events using a Web site and tool-free phone number, collecting payments from construction projects that wanted to use non-union labor and forcing coffee cart vendors to pay kickbacks.

Chris Ahearn, a spokeswoman for Lowe’s, said the company “was pleased that we were able to support the FBI in its investigation.”