Breaking News in the Industry: March 21, 2019

ORC ring admits to $700,000 shoplifting scheme

The owner of two pawn shops in Bucks County Pennsylvania, and one of his employees admitted Wednesday to enlisting people struggling with drug addiction for a retail theft ring the two ran that netted $700,000, authorities said. Michael Stein, 36, of Langhorne, the owner of Levittown Quick Cash Trading Post and Morrisville Loan & Pawn, pleaded guilty to corrupt organizations and receiving stolen property, the state Attorney General’s Office said in a news release.

Stein’s now-former employee, Brian Jancia, 29, of Holmes, admitted to receiving stolen property. Jancia was sentenced to three years of probation and 80 hours of community service, authorities said. Stein’s sentence was deferred because he cooperated with investigators. From January 2014 to October 2017, Stein and Jancia sent 27 “professional thieves” to steal more than 5,000 items from Walmart, Target, CVS, Giant Food, and Home Depot stores in Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, authorities said. The thieves shoplifted a variety of items, including household appliances, computer hard drives, and beauty products, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The unopened merchandise was then resold on eBay and other online platforms.

Over the three years the ring operated, the items were sold for nearly $700,000. Of that, Stein’s shoplifters collected around $229,000, about 30 cents on the dollar, investigators said. Stein kept the rest, more than $470,000. Stein and Jancia were arrested in March 2018 following a yearlong investigation.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, calling the ring a “despicable enterprise,” said Stein and Jancia “ran a scheme to profit off of those struggling with substance-use disorder and take advantage of the opioid crisis ravaging Pennsylvania.”  A spokesperson for Shapiro said 18 of the ring’s “boosters” will be sentenced Friday in Bucks County Court.   [Source:]

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Video shows vehicle smashing through c-store… for 2 beers.

Newtown Township police are investigating a smash-and-grab burglary taken to the extreme after a man smashed his SUV into the front of Newtown Square Beer distributor around 4 a.m. Wednesday. The thief was after 2 cans of Bud Ice. Surveillance cameras inside the store captured everything. First comes the SUV smashing into the front door. Moments later, the driver steps out and reaches out through the broken glass doors in search of two cold ones. In total, the stolen merchandise costs less than $4. Considering the damage left behind will reach the $15,000 range, the shop owners have a sense of humor. “He was probably thirsty!” said Raj Savaliya.

Investigators were a little thrown off when they saw the video. “We’ve investigated these cases before. At the minimum they’re going for lottery tickets, cartons of cigarettes, and the safe as well. I’ve never investigated a theft where a person would go to such great lengths to take two beers from a cooler,” said Newtown Township Detective Bill Moor. Police have recovered the SUV and impounded it. Sources say you can see back-end damage and two empty beer cans sitting inside. (The video is hosted on the source website.) Anyone with information about the man’s identity is asked to contact Detective William Moor or any  Newtown officer at 610.356.0602.    [Source: 6ABC News]

Credit cards no longer a bail option due to fraud

About 10 people have been released from the Champaign County Jail in Illinois since the first of the year after having posted bail using stolen credit card information. The discovery of the fraud prompted Sheriff Dustin Heuerman on Wednesday to suspend indefinitely the online payment method, which was intended to increase convenience for someone posting bail for an arrestee.

“It’s been an option for several years and we had a couple of instances (of fraud) here and there but this is really starting to get out of control,” Heuerman said. “Since the beginning of 2019, there has been more than $25,000 in bail paid with the remote option from suspected stolen credit card information. We have seen an increase in fraudulent activity as of late and fear that as word of this spreads, more fraud will take place. There are a variety of inmates who have been released as a result of this fraudulent activity and bail amounts have also varied,” the sheriff said. Amounts posted have ranged from $184 to just over $5,000, he said.   [Source: The News-Gazette]

Employee faces trial for $760,000 theft 3 years later

A woman accused of stealing more than $760,000 from a Leeward Oahu homeless shelter in Hawaii will face prosecution after all. Three years ago, Judge Rom Trader dismissed charges of first and second degree theft against Laura Pitolo. He said police were told of the theft allegations in 2010, and it took authorities too long to charge the former program director of Waianae Community Outreach.

But on Monday, the state Supreme Court reversed that decision, saying the clock on the three-year statute of limitations should have started in 2013, when the state Department of Human Services began its own investigation of what was happening at the nonprofit. The case was sent back for trial on six counts. Pitolo was accused of writing unauthorized checks and making cash withdrawals while at the nonprofit, which received state funding to help the homeless.

The nonprofit’s executive director, Sophina Placencia, was also embroiled in the controversy. In 2017, she pleaded no contest to theft and was sentenced to a year in jail and four years probation. She was also ordered to pay $554,495 in restitution. Placencia is scheduled to be released from jail in May after Judge Todd Eddins refused her request for early release to care for an elderly parent.   [Source: Hawaii News Now]

Shoplifter arrested for ORC after targeting stores 20 times

Memphis police arrested a man who they said stole thousands of dollars worth of items from Home Depots across the city of Memphis. Police said an asset protection investigator called the police to provide security footage of the thefts.  Mekayne Havens, 19, was developed as a suspect and was arrested. He is charged with Theft of Property Conduct Involving Merchandise $10,000 – $60,000.

According to police documents, Havens stole from Home Depot stores across Memphis more than 20 times. He is accused of targeting the Home Depot in the 1600 block of Poplar Avenue more than seven times. The total value of the items, which included multiple drills, grinders, hacksaws among multiple others was more than $16,000. A company spokesperson said the thieves are selling the items to third parties, such as pawn shops.

Documents show stores at the locations on Truse Parkway, Market Boulevard and Giacosa were hit over that time period. A spokesperson for Home Depot released this statement regarding the theft ring and arrest made. “Organized retail crime (ORC) is a serious and growing problem for all retailers. The Home Depot has dedicated ORC investigators who work daily with law enforcement at all levels to stop these crimes that threaten our communities. We’re constantly evolving our security measures to make our stores safer for customers and associates. We’re grateful to partner with the Memphis Police Department to investigate this case.”    [Source: Fox13 Memphis]

Most cashless businesses banned across the state

The move to cashless stores and restaurants in New Jersey hit a dead end when Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill into law requiring most stores and restaurants in the state to accept cash at their physical locations… effective immediately. The only other state in the US to ban cashless stores is Massachusetts, which passed a similar law in 1978. But the backlash against cashless stores is growing. Earlier this month, the city of Philadelphia became the first major US city to require businesses to accept the legal tender.

The cities of New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington are considering similar bills. Businesses that violate the NJ law face up to a $2,500 fine for a first offense and $5,000 for a second. Subsequent violations would fall under the consumer fraud act, which can carry penalties of up to $20,000. The new statute applies to in-person sales only. Additionally, car rental companies, parking garages and some airport retail shops are excluded.

Consumer advocates say cashless businesses effectively discriminate against poor customers who don’t have access to credit or bank accounts. Many people don’t have access to consumer credit and any effort by retail establishments to ban the use of cash is discriminatory towards those people,” Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, a main sponsor of the measure, said in a statement.   [Source: Chain Store Age]

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