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Suspects in alleged theft ring enter 'not guilty' plea

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Updated: 6/12/2013 12:38 pm

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. -- Four men who investigators say were behind an elaborate theft ring appeared before a Clay County judge Wednesday morning.

Abas Issa, of Orange Park, faces six counts of organized dealing in stolen property and one count of racketeering.  

Yousef Issa, of Fleming Island, faces four counts of organized dealing in stolen property and one count of racketeering.

Emad Abdulijaber, of Jacksonville, is charged with dealing in stolen property.  

All three appeared in court and entered pleas of not guilty during their arraignment Wednesday at the Clay County Courthouse.

Antoun Arbaji, of Jacksonville, faces three counts of organized dealing in stolen property. Arbaji wasn't in court but his attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

The Issa brothers also face an additional charge for using a firearm while committing a felony. The State Attorney's Office filed that charge late last month.

"Both of the Issa brothers brothers were in actual possession of a firearm while engaging in committing the organized dealing in stolen property," said prosecuting attorney James Colaw.

Charges stem from an investigation that started in June 2011 after the Green Cove Springs Police Department developed information about potential illegal activity.

Officers conducted several undercover operations to buy reportedly stolen merchandise, which netted five arrests total.

According to the arrest warrants, the majority of undercover deals went down at V & J Food Store in Green Cove Springs.

On one occasion, the documents state, an undercover detective sold more than 87,000 cigars and cigarillos, said to be stolen from the Swisher manufacturing plant in Jacksonville, plus a flat screen TV, all for $9,000.  

According to the police report, the detective offered stolen electronics to the Issa brothers. Abas, the man police call the criminal leader, said he'd buy anything, but "they had to be at a good price."

Abdulijaber is out of jail after posting bond. The suspect was required to prove that his bail money wasn't tied to any illegal activity.

"He had some family members, I believe a brother, testify and present documents that supported that the money they had available to post that bond came from a refinancing of a home or a prior sale of a business."

A fifth suspect, George Salameh, faces federal charges. The other four suspects will be back in court next month for a pretrial hearing.

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