Breaking News in the Industry: April 4, 2018

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New Jersey busts 11 in $1M cargo theft ring

An 11-person, $1 million cargo theft ring was broken up by the New Jersey State Police last month in “Operation Botany Strike.” The thieves “took everything they could get their hands on,” said Col. Patrick Callahan, head of the state police. The stolen cargo included granite, landscaping equipment, home goods, clothing and groceries. It was worth more than $1 million, police said.  An investigation into the ring began Oct. 14, focusing on a warehouse complex in Passaic’s Botany Worsted Mills Historic District. Police said they were alerted to the ring after the theft of a tractor-trailer containing more than $100,000 worth of meat from a trucking lot in South Amboy. The truck was found abandoned later that day at the Vince Lombardi Service Area on the turnpike, and evidence pointed them to the warehouse complex. Four different locations on the property were used as “off-loading” points where the stolen cargo was stored and fenced, according to police. Fencing means knowingly buying stolen goods with the intent of selling them. Ambiorix Canela-Rodriguez, 26, of Paterson, the alleged ringleader, was charged with fencing, receiving stolen goods and conspiracy, while the other 10 were charged with receiving stolen goods and conspiracy. The defendants were released pending trial. Callahan said the investigation was continuing. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see additional cargo seized, additional suspects arrested and certainly charged,” he said.  [Source: Transport Topics]

Employee enters plea to stealing more than $230K from restaurant

A former employee of the CD Cafe in Solomons, Maryland, pled guilty to a theft scheme charge for recurring incidents over a five-year period where she stole more than $230,000 from the restaurant using various theft and fraud methods. Carrie Jean Wilson, 44, of Lusby was indicted on three counts of theft scheme between $10,000 and $100,000, along with single counts of theft scheme more than $100,000 and theft scheme between $1,000 and $10,000. Deborah Woody, owner of the CD Cafe, previously confirmed Wilson was employed at the restaurant for 15 years and held a managerial position there since 2007. According to court documents, Wilson was responsible for overseeing the financial operations of the business. The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office initiated an investigation into Wilson last April after a tax adviser informed Woody that there were finances missing from the restaurant’s financial books. The audit report, which covered from January 2016 to April 8 of last year, revealed multiple checks written to various venders were later altered with Wilson being the new payee, the police report states. While reviewing financial documents, Det. Mike Mudd and Sgt. Vladimir Bortchevsky of the sheriff’s office observed numerous fraudulent transactions. Mudd compiled a spreadsheet to document the different ways Wilson stole funds.

According to the report, the main theft categories of the spreadsheet were business checks, Staples and cash deposits. Investigators learned that Wilson recorded checks in the financial ledger to a business vendor before subsequently cashing or depositing them for herself months and sometimes years later. She would change the payee information and sometimes the amount being paid, the documents detail.  As part of her duties, Wilson was responsible for purchasing office supplies for the restaurant at Staples. She was subsequently reimbursed for the purchases with business checks. While reviewing the Staples account, Woody was able to identify a number of items the restaurant never received or didn’t use during a normal course of business. The investigation revealed Wilson stole $64,645.76 in 2015 and another $165,454.40 from January 2016 to April of last year, totaling $230,208.24. The police report contained no additional information regarding the 2013 and 2014 financial records. On Monday, Wilson pled guilty to theft scheme over $100,000. Her sentencing is set for April 25 in circuit court.  [Source: The Calvert Record]

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Repeated retail thefts valued at over $10,000 land suspect in jail

A 33-year-old man suspected of stealing thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise from department stores in Hurricane, St. George, and Washington City, Utah, was arrested last week. John Diedrich, who has an address listed out of Clovis, California, was arrested Wednesday after a security officer observed his actions at the Hurricane Walmart, according to a probable cause statement written in support of his arrest. Diedrich was allegedly seen putting items in two bags and then hiding them in the store before leaving. The loss prevention associate inventoried items in one of the bags before Diedrich returned to retrieve it, estimating the items’ collective value to be $2,360. Diedrich returned to the store a third time and allegedly started filling up a cart with items. He was recognized by loss prevention and subsequently detained while the Hurricane City Police Department was contacted and an officer responded. Diedrich was taken into custody by police and transported to the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane.  While Diedrich was at the county jail, a Washington City department store contacted police about a theft that an LP associate believed Diedrich had committed there last month. The responding police officer was told that Diedrich entered the store Feb. 27 and took items and placed them in a reusable bag that he hid in the men’s department of the store. He would later return and leave with the items in the bag without paying, according to the police report; the total value of the items in the bag was $1,902.

The responding Washington City Police officer wrote in the statement that he was able to identify Diedrich as the man involved in the Washington City theft by comparing previous photos of the man with new ones taken at the Hurricane Walmart.  When asked if he had taken merchandise from the Washington City store, Diedrich told the officer he didn’t remember, nor did he recall going to the Washington City store, according to the probable cause statement. The next day, a St. George Police officer responded to a “delayed retail theft” report at the Bloomington Walmart. The officer was told about two instances in which Diedrich was again believed to be involved. On the same day as the alleged Washington City theft, police said Diedrich went to the Bloomington Walmart and put assorted electronics in “a large reusable bag” and left without paying the estimated $1,528 value of the items. He would return March 18 and do the same thing, this time leaving with over $4,700-worth of electronics merchandise. “I compared surveillance footage and confirmed it was the same male suspect arrested in Hurricane as the thefts in St. George,” the responding St. George Police officer wrote. The collective estimated value of all the items taken from the department stores was over $10,000. Diedrich was subsequently charged with three third-degree felonies and one second-degree felony for the alleged retail thefts.  [Source: St George News]

Woman used kids to shoplift $800 of goods

Police say a woman employed two children in a shoplifting spree in Great Falls, Montana, on Saturday. Ginny Sue Meineke, 38, is charged with felony drug possession, possession of drug paraphernalia and misdemeanor theft. Police responded on Saturday night to what one law enforcement official later called a “shoplifting call from hell,” where they reportedly found Meineke in custody of loss prevention at Walmart. According to reports, store loss prevention staff saw Meineke walk into the store with two children. Staff reportedly saw Meineke pick things off the shelf and pluck the bar-code labels off the items, then place the labels on more expensive items. She then scanned the items’ new labels and instructed one of the children to take the cart out to their vehicle. Loss prevention staff then stopped Meineke and escorted her to their office. According to charging documents, the two transactions made with switched labels totaled about $30, while the actual value of the merchandise was $816. Additionally, the vehicle Meineke arrived in was reported as an “attempt to locate” vehicle in police records, according to reports. The registered owner of the vehicle gave Great Falls police permission to search the car; inside, they reported finding two syringes containing methamphetamine. Prosecutors requested on Monday her bail be set at $5,000.   [Source: Great Falls Tribune]

Identity theft ring leader sentenced to 6 years in prison

A Pasadena, California, man was sentenced this week to more than six years in prison for his leading role in an identity-theft ring that defrauded a number of financial institutions, federal prosecutors said. Lei Chen, 51, was also ordered to pay $2.7 million in restitution to eight financial institutions: American Express, Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One, Chase Bank, Citigroup, Discovery, and U.S. Bank, federal prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. Chen was the leader of a large criminal organization that engaged in extensive credit-card fraud and identity theft in Los Angeles and Orange counties, prosecutors said, with Chen’s subordinates contacted credit agencies and financial institutions to change the victims’ addresses to “drop addresses,” locations controlled by the organization. Those working for Chen then applied for credit cards in the names of the victims and picked up the cards once they were delivered to the drop addresses, prosecutors said. Purchases included Rolex watches, iPhones, Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, and Chanel purses that totaled millions of dollars, prosecutors said. Three remaining defendants are scheduled for trial in September 25.   [Source: Pasadena Star-News]

Florida’s Retail Federation brags about killing effort to charge fewer petty criminals with felonies

Florida charges way too many people with felony theft for a simple reason: Under state law, anytime someone steals something worth at least $300, it qualifies as “grand theft.” That threshold is among the lowest in America. Florida has not raised that amount since 1986 despite the fact that the U.S. dollar has undergone inflation in those 32 years and other states have raised their limits to as much as $2,500 to qualify as a felony. So why can’t the Sunshine State fix its statute to reflect the modern value of the dollar? Today offered a vivid reminder when the Florida Retail Federation (FRF), the largest lobbying group for major retail corporations in the state, bragged about killing a measure seeking to prevent more petty thieves from going to prison by raising the felony theft standard. The federation represents the interests of the nation’s largest corporations, including Walmart, Target, CVS, the Walt Disney Company, Walgreens, the Home Depot, Lowe’s, Hard Rock, and Office Depot. Today the group’s CEO, F. Scott Shalley, told Florida Politics that one of the organization’s “biggest successes” in 2018 was lobbying to kill a bipartisan measure that would have raised the theft threshold to $1,500.

“Keeping the threshold at its current limit of $300 will help to protect retail by deterring theft, discouraging criminals from stealing larger amounts of merchandise, and reducing the impact of organized retail crime,” Shalley told the site. The quote has enraged Florida’s criminal-justice-reform advocates, who span the ideological spectrum. They say the FRF’s “deterrence” argument is bunk because there haven’t been spikes in thefts in states that have raised the felony theft limit. “This is just about modernizing our criminal justice system and not wasting unnecessary resources incarcerating people,” Deborrah Brodsky, the director of Florida State University’s Project on Accountable Justice, tells New Times. “This is something the rest of the country has moved on from. We’re an outlier here. And it’s one of the places you can clearly point to the evidence and show that the status quo is not working.” Brodsky says these types of felony-theft laws tend to come down harshest on young people, who often make stupid decisions and try to, say, walk out of a Target with a few Apple Watches shoved into their shorts. She noted that in 1986, a typical retail store contained way fewer items that cost more than $300. Today you can theoretically get caught stealing one iPhone or five Xbox games and wind up charged with grand theft. [Source: Miami New Times]

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