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Breaking News in the Industry: March 12, 2018

Organized retail crime $1.3M investigation nets 2 arrests at business park

A criminal complaint filed in Houston federal court outlines a retail theft operation accused of stealing, repackaging and distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of name-brand merchandise. When federal agents executed a search warrant at GPS Wholesale on Oxford Park near Westheimer, they reported finding 147 boxes of stolen merchandise valued at $591,895.76.   According to federal court documents, the merchandise came from places like Walgreen’s and CVS and involved items like Benadryl, Bayer Aspirin, Abreva, Nexium and Tylenol. Federal agents say the operation employed mainly undocumented immigrants as professional shoplifters called “boosters,” who would “travel the United States stealing specific merchandise, e.g. over-the-counter (OTC) medications, diabetic testing supplies, shaving razors and other items.” Federal agents say the stolen goods would eventually wind up at the Oxford Park business where anti-theft stickers were removed, the products repacked and shipped to wholesale companies called “Diverters.” Arrested during the search were Yasser Ouwad and Luis Garcia-Oyuela. Agents say this operation is believed to have “received, processed (cleaned) and packaged for interstate commerce approximately $1.3 million in stolen merchandise.” Garcia’s attorney told KPRC he believes his client is innocent. Ouwad’s attorney told KPRC his client posted bond Friday and they would have no comment until they’ve had a chance to review the case. [Source: Click2Houston]

LP associate charged with store thefts

A Clearfield, Pennsylvania, man whose job at Walmart in Clearfield was to be prevent financial loss caused by theft or fraud has been charged with stealing from his employer. Jordan L. McAllister, 26, of Maxwell Street in Clearfield, waived his right to a preliminary hearing in front of District Judge J. Michael Morris at Centralized Court held at the Clearfield County Jail on Wednesday McAllister, who was employed as an asset protection associate, was charged by Lawrence Township Police in January after GameStop located in the Nittany Mall in State College reported suspicious activity by McAllister to the Walmart in State College. According to the criminal complaint, in November, an employee at GameStop provided State College Police with a suspected fraudulent receipt. The Game Stop employee told police that McAllister had traded in games without the cases or booklets, and insisted on receiving cash for the games, and then purchased another game with the cash he received.

The GameStop employee told police that McAllister told him he was an APA at the Clearfield Walmart. The same employee noticed that the traded-in games were newly released games and became suspicious. One game in particular — Call of Duty WWII — had been released on Nov. 3. Surveillance video from 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 2 to 11 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 5 was examined. Additionally, UPC numbers, prices, dates of sale and dates for the video games that were returned to the store were compared to McAllister’s associate purchase history for the past 90 days, and none of the games were listed. An interview with McAllister, Walmart management, and police took place on Nov. 14 where McAllister admitted to taking several video games, deli plates and also admitted to under-scanning baby formula from the Clearfield store where he was employed. He also admitted taking the games to GameStop in exchange for cash and other games. The total amount of merchandise removed by McAllister was valued at $682. McAllister is facing four counts of retail theft-take merchandise, and two counts of retail theft-alter label/price marking. All are misdemeanors of the first degree.  [Source: The Progress]

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Police undercover sting busts shoplifting ring; Over $110,000 in stolen swag recovered

It appears a good thief can make a lot of money from shoplifting when the thief combines forces with other thieves and they all go about the business very systematically. Seattle police busted four men last week suspected of “trafficking items stolen from downtown stores.”

The busts were part of a crackdown on property crime in Seattle’s downtown core.

”For two months, undercover officers followed the men to darkened alleyways, restaurant booths and alcoves around downtown, where they exchanged small amounts of cash for valuable stolen goods,” said an SPD statement.

 The operation came about as part of an effort by the West Precinct to address car prowls and shoplifting around the downtown area. 

Members of the precinct’s Anti-Crime Team partnered with SPD’s Major Crimes Task Force and identified a small, “prolific group of men buying stolen items around 3rd Avenue and Pike Street.”

Police believe the traffickers were targeting low-level drug users, employing them to steal items from downtown stores and paying them a tenth of an item’s value.

When undercover officers, posing as thieves, approached the traffickers on the street, they gave the officers “shopping lists of clothing items, specifying down to the size and color they wanted.”

The morning on March 1st, investigators served search warrants at two apartments in Burien, Washington, a trailer in Federal Way and a home in Renton and arrested the four suspects.

 At the Federal Way location alone, police recovered $17,000 worth of liquor, 75 boxes of perfume worth $6,000, purses, wallets, Tide detergent pods, jackets, jeans and sunglasses, and $50,000 in cash, all valued at $70,000.

The investigation also led police to a storage unit in Des Moines, where investigators recovered another $10,000 in stolen goods.

 All told, investigators recovered $111,000 in stolen property and $50,000 cash during the operation. 

Police believe the men may have been shipping some of the items out of the country to be resold. 

All four men were booked into the King County Jail for possession of stolen property and stolen property trafficking.  [Source: Sky Valley Chronicle]

Employee steals baby formula to trade for drugs

Thibodaux Police in Louisiana have arrested a man for allegedly stealing baby formula to exchange for drugs. Trevor Theriot was arrested on Wednesday March 7th, after the findings from an internal investigation by his employer were submitted to the Police. The company was notified by another employee that Theriot was stealing from the store, which prompted the internal investigation where it was discovered that on February 28th Theriot stole a container of Similac baby formula and exchanged it for Norco pills in the parking lot of the business. Theriot also admitted that he stole chicken noodle soup and gum in the past, but did not know the exact dates. Police searched Theriot after placing him under arrest to find suspected Suboxone and suspected Heroin on Theriot. He was arrested for Organized Retail Theft, Possession of Heroin, and Possession of Suboxone and transported to the Lafourche Parish Detention Center where he is being held on a $10,500 bond.  [Source: brproud]

Amazon goes after alleged Vera Bradley and OtterBox fakes

Amazon is working to boot phony Vera Bradley handbags and OtterBox phone cases from its website. The company on Thursday filed four lawsuits in federal court in Washington state against a handful of alleged sellers of counterfeit goods on its online store. In three of the lawsuits, it filed along with Vera Bradley, and in another it filed along with Otter Products. “Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit goods, and any supplier that violates our policies will be held accountable,” an Amazon spokeswoman said Thursday. “We take this fight seriously and will continue to partner with stakeholders to protect our marketplace.” Amazon since 2015 has stepped up legal action against alleged scammers and counterfeiters on its e-commerce site and on its book self-publishing platform, in hopes of weeding out fakes and deterring future bad actors. The company has repeatedly said these scammers are a small minority of the sellers and entrepreneurs on its site. But the company has found that snuffing out counterfeiters is a notoriously difficult problem, as scammers tend to change tactics as quickly as they are found out. Frustrated with Amazon’s efforts to stop counterfeiters, the retailer Elevation Lab called out Amazon last week and the shoemaker Birkenstock decided to pull its inventory from Amazon. Amazon said it employs dedicated teams of software engineers, research scientists, program managers and investigators to run its anti-counterfeiting program. It uses automated systems to continually scan its site for potential counterfeits and bad actors, Amazon said. [Source: C|Net]

Retailers call Trump tariffs ‘self-inflicted wound on the nation’s economy’

Retailers are worried about an impending trade war that will disrupt their carefully crafted supply chains for consumer goods. After praising President Trump for tax cuts, the industry’s largest trade group is criticizing the increase in tariffs for steel and aluminum that Trump signed on Thursday afternoon. “A tariff is a tax, plain and simple. In this case, it’s an unnecessary tax on every American family and a self-inflicted wound on the nation’s economy,” said National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay in a statement released Thursday. Consumer spending makes up more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy and much of that is spent in stores and online. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer supporting one in four U.S. jobs , according to the federation. “Consumers are just beginning to see more money in their paychecks following tax reform, but those gains will soon be offset by higher prices for products ranging from canned goods to cars to electronics,” he said. The industry is concerned that the administration wants “to ignite a trade war” that will create a swath of companies on the losing end of his policy. “On top of steel and aluminum tariffs, retailers are troubled by the direction of the ongoing NAFTA negotiations and the threat of additional tariffs on consumer goods from China,” Shay said. In a play on Trump’s “make America great again” slogan, Shay said, “The true greatness of America cannot be realized when we build walls blocking the free flow of commerce in today’s global economy.” [Source: Dallas News]

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