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    Merchant at flea market arrested

    A sting leads authorities to an Oldsmar Flea Market booth, where stolen and marked merchandise from Target is found.

    By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 20, 2002

    OLDSMAR -- The case started when security officers caught two teenagers shoplifting at the Target in East Lake. The suspects told officers they regularly sold their stolen goods to a man with a booth at the Oldsmar Flea Market.

    That tip led to an undercover Pinellas County sheriff's investigation that ended with the arrest two weeks ago of flea market merchant Thomas E. Skotis, 48, of Holiday.

    Skotis -- who buys, sells and trades electronic games, videos and DVDs at the flea market -- was charged with five counts of dealing in stolen property. He was released from Pinellas County Jail on his own recognizance Aug. 9.

    The investigation began after a Target district security officer, Steven Murray, caught two West Pasco teenage boys, a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old, shoplifting June 30, according to a detective's affidavit for a search warrant.

    After the two provided information about a man at the Oldsmar Flea Market to whom they fenced their stolen goods, Murray visited the booth and observed merchandise with Target identification marks. Those identifiers included a pinhole placed near the label of DVD movies and various electronic games.

    Detectives said they later identified a confidential informant who told them that he had sold stolen merchandise to Skotis on several occasions and that he knew others who had used Skotis to fence stolen property.

    On three dates -- July 7, July 17 and Aug. 4 -- the informant sold electronic games and accessories "represented as stolen" to Skotis, at a price well below retail value, according to a sworn statement from sheriff's Detective Javier Rosas. The items actually had been provided by the Target store for use in the sting, said sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha.

    All of the items were marked with identifying pinholes. Some items even carried a Target "bull's-eye" label. An undercover detective visited the booth and identified several of the items for sale at Skotis' booth, authorities said.

    During the informant's last transaction Aug. 4, Skotis even provided a handwritten list of merchandise he was interested in getting, Rosas said in his affidavit.

    When a search warrant was served Aug. 7, detectives recovered many of the marked items, Pasha said. Those included PlayStation 2 games, DVDs and a Nintendo Game Boy advanced game system.

    "Target helped us out quite a bit," Pasha said.

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