Breaking News in the Industry: March 2, 2018

Pennsylvania men ran pet supply business by stealing inventory from other pet stores

The first heist happened in Colonial Heights, near Petersburg, Pennsylvania, according to court documents. From there, the seven-person crew struck stores in North Chesterfield, Midlothian, Richmond and Mechanicsville before heading east toward Hampton Roads. By the end of the day, they’d hit at least nine businesses.
Their target: pet supplies.Joseph Heim Jr., 42, of Harrisburg, Pa., and Timothy B. Erb Jr., 24, of Wormleysburg, Pa., were indicted last week in connection with a shoplifting ring that targeted PetSmart locations across Virginia and North Carolina. They were arrested May 6, 2016, in Suffolk. In all, the conspiracy netted at least $38,000 worth of pet supplies and possibly more than $100,000, according to court documents. “This is very, very profitable,” said Robert Moraca, a vice president with the National Retail Federation. He referred to it as “organized retail crime,” and said it, along with shoplifting in general, is a growing problem. He said the industry now views it as more serious to their profits than internal theft, administrative errors and vendor fraud. Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Stoker declined to comment on the indictment, which charges the men with conspiracy and interstate transport of stolen property. Federal court records do not list attorneys for Heim and Erb, who have been incarcerated for almost two years on state charges. Heim entered into a plea agreement with state prosecutors and was sentenced last year to three years in state prison. Suffolk prosecutors on Wednesday dropped charges against Erb in light of the federal case.

According to the indictment, Heim and Erb were running a pet supply business that got its inventory by stealing from PetSmarts. The indictment alleged the men took orders from their buyers before they stole anything. Two large scale buyers paid about $45,000 for the stolen goods over the span of about two weeks in the spring of 2016, the documents said. Suffolk Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Susan Walton said the scheme’s scope was much larger, though. According to a transcript of Heim’s guilty plea hearing, she said “over $100,000” was funneled to Heim through a Paypal account in Erb’s name. The indictment claims Heim decided which stores were to be targeted and what items were to be stolen. Sometimes he would direct others to fill the large empty bags they brought into the store. Other times he would fill them while his crew served as lookouts, the indictment said. Among the items targeted: dog shirts, dog collars, pet grooming products and medications, the documents said. ”They literally create shopping lists,” Moraca said of organized shoplifting crews. When the bags were filled, the crew coordinated their exit via text message, the indictment said. They would meet up outside at assigned vehicles before moving on to the next store. [Source: The Virginian-Pilot]

Texas man wanted by federal authorities sentenced to prison for credit card fraud

U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Corrigan has sentenced Jose Carlos Terra Izquierdo, 24, Amarillo, TX to 24 months in federal prison for credit card fraud, to run consecutive to the 12 month and 1 day prison sentence he received in the District of Nebraska. The court also ordered Izquierdo to pay restitution to the companies that he defrauded. According to court documents, in 2016, Izquierdo was convicted of credit card fraud in the District of Nebraska. He was scheduled to turn himself in and begin his prison sentence in March 2017, but instead traveled to Florida in violation of his conditions of release. Federal authorities in Nebraska subsequently issued a warrant for his arrest. On March 2, 2017, Izquierdo was pulled over in Columbia County by the Florida Highway Patrol for an expired Texas tag. During a subsequent search of the vehicle, trooper located a credit card reader and stolen credit card information belonging to more than 50 victims. This case was investigated by the Florida Highway Patrol and the United States Secret Service – Jacksonville Field Office. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kevin C. Frein.  [Source: Department of Justice]

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Man arrested for shoplifting, smashing windshield

A Nebraska man arrested for shoplifting a bottle of beer used the bottle to damage the windshield of the man who reported him, according to Grand Island police. The incident occurred at Casey’s General Store, 1420 S. Locust, at about 6:35 p.m. Tuesday. The man who owns the vehicle told employees that John Strickland was shoplifting. According to the police media report, the damage was done with the large beer bottle that the suspect had shoplifted. Strickland, 46, was charged Wednesday in Hall County Court with third-offense theft by shoplifting totaling $0 to $500 and criminal mischief totaling $0 to $500. The first charge is a Class 4 felony, the second a misdemeanor. Judge Art Wetzel set Strickland’s bond at $3,500 and scheduled a preliminary hearing for 2:30 p.m. March 22.. [Source: The Independent]

Store owner tracks alleged shoplifter to Mardi Gras ball to reclaim dress

The Red Carpet on Magazine Street is packed with thousands of beautiful gowns. Carnival Season is one of the busiest times of the year for owner, Dawn Michelet. She said this year was particularly busy, since Carnival started so quickly after the holidays. “You know, it went from Christmas and I blinked my eyes and it was a week before Carnival,” Michelet said. She takes pride in helping customers pick out the perfect dress, but this year, she also had her hands full spotting shoplifters. “They just distract you. They separate. They break up,” she said, describing incidents she’s seen in her store. “They pull the sales girl to the side and then somebody runs out the door with the dress.” During the month of February, she lost seven dresses in just two weeks. “It’s crippling. You can’t stay in business if you’re losing $8,000 every two weeks,” Michelet explained. But there was one incident she found particularly frustrating. She said a woman came in and fell in love with a $600 blue-beaded gown. “She told me where she was going. She told me that she needed it tonight,” Michelet said. “She told me she didn’t have time to do alterations. So, I looked at her body and I fit her.” After that, Michelet said the customer just walked out the door with the dress. “She was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was so angry,” Michelet said.

But she had one helpful piece of information. The woman told her where she planned on wearing the dress– the Treme Sidewalk Steppers annual ball. “She showed up that evening and was waiting like a bird dog waiting to pounce as soon as she saw those dresses,” said Xavier Police Chief Jacques Battiste. The ball was held at the Convocation Center at Xavier University. Michelet approached University Police Chief Jacques Battiste about her situation and he quickly agreed to help. “We did a little investigative work and she told us that the persons who had stolen the dresses said they were coming to the function that night. How smart on their part,” Battiste said. Michelet spotted her dress just after 1 a.m., and she snapped photos as the NOPD made the arrest. New Orleans Police identify the shoplifter as 26-year-old Shanice Angela Craig. And Michelet identified the dress. “It’s a Primavera Couture. It’s a size 22, and I gave him the style number,” she said. “And the tag is in the dress. The Red Carpet tag!” Since this happened, Michelet has improved security at the store by installing better cameras and hiring a security guard on the weekends when the store gets busy. She also has a message for would-be shoplifters. “I wanted people to know, if you steal from me, I’m coming for you, at your event, in front of everybody,” she said. The NOPD is currently investigating several different shoplifting cases that happened at the Red Carpet. Chief Battiste says Shanice Craig– the woman arrested at the ball– has given them information they used to track down a second shoplifter. Anyone with information in these cases can contact the NOPD’s 6th District or CrimeStoppers. [Source: WWlTV4 News]

Pawn shop theft ring busted

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced charges against the owner of two Bucks County pawn shops and four of his employees, along with 27 professional retail thieves, for their roles in a scheme to steal, pawn and resell $700,000 in merchandise from national chain stores. During the course of a year-long investigation with Falls Township police, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office and other agencies, Attorney General’s agents learned that employees from Levittown Quick Cash Trading Post and Morrisville Loan & Pawn purchased 5,000 stolen items at one third of their retail value from professional thieves who stole them from the stores. The pawn shops resold the unopened, brand-new merchandise on eBay or other online retailers at full value. They professional thieves – known as “boosters” – used their share of the illegal proceeds to fuel heroin and opioid addictions.

“These pawn shop workers and their owner knew they were buying stolen merchandise at 30 cents on the dollar, but they were blinded by their own greed,” Attorney General Shapiro said at a press conference today at the Falls Township Police Department in Bucks County. “They profited on the addictions of the booster thieves and their desperation for money to feed their addictions.  Today we’re holding the pawn shop owner and workers accountable, and we’ve shut this scheme down.” The owner of the pawn shops, Michael Stein, 35, of Langhorne, was charged today with corrupt organizations, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, receiving stolen property and criminal conspiracy. The pawn shop workers were charged with corrupt organizations, receiving stolen property and conspiracy.  The booster thieves were charged with retail theft and conspiracy. The pawn shop workers charged were Lyle Boden, 29, of Philadelphia; Joshua Fedalen, 26, of Sharon Hill; Brian Jancia, 29, of Holmes; and Victor Kline, Jr., 46, of Philadelphia. The investigation began after loss prevention associates at several large stores, including Walmart, Target, Home Depot, CVS and Giant Foods, noticed a significant uptick in thefts from their stores in southeast Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The scheme was big business for the pawn shops.  Their employees bought and resold stolen merchandise with a retail value of nearly $700,000. The pawn shops paid about $229,000 to the “boosters” for all the stolen goods. The pawn shops pocketed the difference – over $470,000.  [Source: Fox43 News]

Grocers want to be able to stop shoplifters inside the store

Some grocers are trying to change a law that would make it easier to apprehend someone who steals from them. The idea is to catch shoplifters before they even leave the store.”It’s getting worse and worse. If I just walked around the store, I could catch several people every day,” said Adam Farevaag who is the manager of Village Market Thriftway in Shoreline, Washington. Farevaag discovered more than $2,000 worth of alcohol was stolen last month from Village Market Thriftway, which he said was half of their liquor sales for one week. “For a small company like us, it’s really hard,” said Farevaag. Theft is an ongoing problem for many in the grocery industry, but Farevaag said there’s not a whole lot that retailers can do. That’s why some lawmakers want to change the definition of theft to include intent to conceal. “We want to make sure that people who intend to shoplift are intercepted before they even leave the store. This is a common practice in many other states — commonly called concealment,” said Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman during the House Public Safety Committee meeting on Feb. 20. Under the current law, retailers can’t prove intent unless the person has gone out the door.Often, those suspects have getaway drivers or weapons.

“When they hit the door I’ve seen lots– I’ve had items thrown back at me. One guy tried to punch me,” said Farevaag. He said a recent theft suspect almost hit an employee in the parking lot while other employees were trying to write down the license plate.Typically, only a loss-prevention associate or manager will confront someone trying to steal, but it varies for each store. “It’s a bill that’s badly needed,” said Jan Gee, who is the president of Washington Food Industry Association. Gee said theft has grown for two reasons: drug habits and the privatization of alcohol in our state. “When there’s theft, you have to make those costs up some way, so the honest customers that are paying cash for their products are being charged a little bit more for their products to make up for all the theft that’s happening,” said Gee. “We need to make sure the cost of the theft goes to the criminal and not the honest consumer.” Gee said those who use reusable bags when shopping would still be able to use them at checkout. She says the issue is that thieves have a different intent — they head straight for the door and not the checkout counter. “It would just make it a lot easier. When they’re down the medicine aisle stuffing pills in their purse– if we see that we can just tell them to leave right away,” said Farevaag. [Source: KOMO News]

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