Crime & Courts

Lincoln County defendant collapses while guilty verdict is read

A Lincoln County businessman accused of being at the center of a multimillion-dollar retail theft ring collapsed in federal court Tuesday as his conviction was being read.

Steve Hale appeared to suffer a seizure, according to his attorney, Noell Tin of Charlotte. Hale is the owner of Double D Distributing in Denver, N.C.

Hale was indicted in October as part of “Operation Cash Back,” a three-year investigation into a professional shoplifting ring that has already sent six people to prison for sentences as long as seven years.

The shoplifters are believed to have been responsible for up to $16 million in stolen goods, mostly over-the-counter nonprescription drugs, and health and beauty products, between 2006 and 2011.

Hale was accused of selling the products, often at half their normal wholesale prices, to in- and out-of-state customers. Federal prosecutors also charged him with filing fraudulent tax returns and other financial irregularities.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, his convictions are punishable by at least 10 years in prison.

Hale had been out on bond prior to his trial, which began last week.

His conviction involved 30 or more charges. The reading of the lengthy verdict was nearly done when Hale collapsed, setting off a chaotic scene in the courthouse.

Tin said Tuesday evening that the cause of his client’s collapse was unknown. No further details were available.