A 46-year-old Silver Spring man was sentenced yesterday to three to nine years in prison in connection with what a federal judge called a "professional, sophisticated fencing operation" that sold stolen designer clothes and accessories through private fashion shows.
U.S. District Judge John Lewis Smith Jr. told the man, Avery Clifton Blassingame of 1909 Briggs Chaney Rd., that he had shown "complete disdain and defiance of the courts" by continuing to fence stolen merchandise while appealing a conviction in Arlington County on similar charges.
Blassingame, who pleaded guilty in January to a charge of interstate transportation of stolen property, was arrested Dec. 12, three months after being convicted in Arlington.
"I see very little to recommend leniency," said Smith, who ordered the sentence to be served consecutive to Blassingame's 12-year sentence in the Virginia case. Smith also set a fine of $10,000.
According to court documents, Blassingame managed a number of professional shoplifters, called "boosters," who specialized in stealing luxury items -- including designer silk dresses, leather and suede apparel and handbags and expensive perfumes -- from exclusive area department and clothing stores.
After paying the boosters a fraction of the retail price of the merchandise, the documents state, Blassingame would arrange private showings or fashion shows at which individuals were able to buy the goods at half off the prices marked on the stores' hang tags.
"This is a person who simply is a criminal . . . somebody who has made a life of criminal activity pay," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McDaniel. He told Smith that Blassingame had refused to provide prosecutors with names of the clients who attended the fashion shows, which often were all-day events at which liquor and other refreshments were served.
Blassingame's lawyer, Robert Mance, conceded that his client had refused to set up such a fashion show in cooperation with police, but said he had cooperated in other ways. Mance also argued that many of the buyers did not know they were purchasing "hot goods" because the tags on the merchandise often were changed.
But 4th District police Detective David S. Brown, who investigated the fencing operation, said after the hearing that customers at the fashion show were aware the goods were stolen because the "big selling point" of the operation was that they were able to buy the merchandise at half of the marked prices.
Brown said Blassingame's boosters "only shopped the best places," including Neiman-Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Garfinckel's, I Magnin and Talbot's.