Joseph Kukta, 43, of Laurel, pleaded guilty Feb. 6 to federal charges of interstate transportation of stolen goods and tax evasion, in connection with his theft and resale of merchandise being shipped through a commercial mail service.

The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C., Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge John Eisert of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Baltimore.

According to his plea agreement, from 2007 through July 30, 2019, Kukta worked as a senior manager at the FedEx facility in Seaford. The facility handled all the FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery packages passing through the Delmarva Peninsula. As the most senior employee at the facility, Kukta oversaw all operational aspects of the facility and supervised more than 100 employees and contractors, earning an annual salary of more than $92,000.

Kukta admitted that beginning in 2009 and continuing until June 2019, he stole packages shipped via FedEx and resold the items to Person A, currently living in Colorado, at approximately 50% of the item’s retail price. Kukta then transported the stolen items, using his vehicles and trailers, to Person B who resided in Maryland. Person B is Person A’s father. From 2012 through 2019, Person A made 275 payments to Kukta totaling more than $1.8 million for merchandise worth approximately $3.6 million that was stolen from FedEx.

As detailed in his plea agreement, Kukta stole packages that contained bulk retail goods and merchandise shipped by suppliers including Sony Electronics, Panasonic, Apple and others, intended for delivery to a Walmart Distribution Center in Smyrna. Beginning in 2012, Kukta’s theft of packages became frequent and consistent, occurring on a weekly basis in certain months. Kukta identified packages he would steal by accessing FedEx computer systems and reviewing packages that had been loaded onto a FedEx trailer awaiting delivery to the Walmart Distribution Center. Kukta selected specific packages which he believed, based on the shippers of the packages, contained high-end electronics or other merchandise of value that could be easily resold. In 2018, Kukta began to also steal packages from FedEx trailers that were loaded for delivery to a Nike Store in Rehoboth Beach.

Kukta went to the FedEx facility on Sundays, holidays or other times when employees were not at the facility, and removed the packages he previously identified from the FedEx trailers. Kukta attempted to avoid detection by turning off the lights at the facility and blocking certain surveillance cameras with cardboard boxes and other objects. Kukta loaded the stolen packages into his GMC Yukon or into vehicles operated by FedEx contractors and parked at the facility, then drove the vehicles to his rented storage unit in Seaford, where he unloaded and stored the items.

On June 5, 2019, Kukta learned law enforcement had subpoenaed surveillance footage from the FedEx facility in Seaford. Approximately two weeks later, Kukta went to the storage unit and retrieved the remaining stolen items. Kukta sold that merchandise at an auction house in Lincoln.

Kukta also admitted that he evaded paying income taxes on the proceeds of the scheme by failing to report that income on his annual joint federal income tax returns, causing a tax loss to the U.S. totaling $660,439. To conceal the income, Kukta provided false information to two banks when they questioned why he was receiving money from Company A, which was controlled by Person A. As to each bank, Kukta falsely told bank representatives that he had been selling items from his father’s estate, which he knew was false. Kukta also provided false information to the IRS during a correspondence audit, claiming that the items he had sold on eBay during 2014 were from his father’s estate, not the sale of stolen goods.

Kukta faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for interstate transportation of stolen goods, and a maximum of five years in federal prison for tax evasion. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake scheduled sentencing for June 18.

U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur commended IRS-CI and HSI for their work in the investigation. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Harry M. Gruber and Paul A. Riley, who are prosecuting the case.