The case of Veniamin Balika shows that there is a black market in virtually every type of product. Mr. Balika was arrested in New Jersey in March 2013 for illegally importing $200,000 of Muenster cheese that he had stolen from a distributor in Wisconsin. Making his way across the country, Balika was hoping to sell the cheese in smaller blocks at below the usual market price. Balika’s crime is clear, but had he been successful in fencing his stash to customers, they, too, might have faced criminal charges.
Receiving stolen goods is a crime
The New Jersey code of criminal conduct sets out the offense of receiving stolen goods. Anyone who receives or brings stolen goods into the state knowing that they are stolen or probably stolen is guilty of an offense. There does not need to be any payment for the goods in order for a violation to occur. Being told that something is stolen immediately puts the recipient on notice that they are committing a crime. Where the person was not told directly, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that the recipient probably knew the goods were stolen property.
Courts determining whether a defendant probably knew they were purchasing stolen goods generally look for certain circumstances around the transaction, which include:
- Being offered something not normally or not yet available to the general public
- Being offered goods that are normally available but at a heavily reduced price
- Being offered items by someone that does not normally deal in such items
- Being sold items without being offered a receipt for payment
Acquiring a product known to be stolen in order to return it to its rightful owner is a valid defense.
Buying goods known to be stolen can carry possible health risks, as well as criminal sanctions. It is almost impossible to know whether a stolen product has been tampered with and whether it is safe for use or consumption. The cheese stolen by Mr. Balika was not returned to its rightful owners, who felt unable to vouch for its validity once it had been taken from them. Instead, it was donated to charity once tests were carried out to ensure it was harmless.
Hoffman DiMuzio is a law firm specializing in criminal defense. With five offices across New Jersey, its attorneys have broad experience of the court system across the State and are easily accessible.
Publication approved by Joseph J. Hoffman, III, Esq., Associate of Hoffman DiMuzio