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Organized Retail Crime Monthly News Recap: December 2023

Organized retail crime remains a serious problem for retailers across the country and around the world. Every day, there are countless stories about criminal enterprises victimizing stores, threatening the safety of customers and employees, and the very fabric of the retail industry. To give you a better feel for the vast impact of the problem, we have provided a glimpse into just a few of the incidents that took place in the month of December. The list has been drastically reduced here due to the sheer number of serious criminal incidents that took place this month.

San Diego County Woman Arrested in $8M Shoplifting Ring
A San Diego County woman has been arrested for her role in leading a nationwide ORC ring worth more than $8 million in beauty products. According to the search warrants, the suspect paid as many as 12 people to steal from Ulta Beauty stores, as well as other retail outlets, and ship them to a post office box. In certain cases, she allegedly purchased plane tickets, rented cars, and paid for hotels for the shoplifters who worked under her. One of the women arrested said she was provided with a list of retail stores to target, items to steal, and the price she would pay for the items. Amazon also provided sales records indicating that since the inception of the suspect’s Amazon sales platform in 2012, she has sold nearly $8,000,000 worth of cosmetic items through the site.

Cargo Theft Investigators Recover Over $5M in Stolen Property
Kentucky State Police announced its Vehicle Investigations Branch had ended a year-and-a-half-long investigation into an organized theft ring allegedly responsible for around $10 million in stolen freight. According to police, investigators noted a rise in stolen freight throughout the state that specifically targeted the food and beverage industry, as well as an increase in incidents of copper theft. During the 18 months, officers with the KSP opened 16 cargo theft investigations, resulting in 10 federal indictments and seven arrests. Officials recovered around $5.2 million in stolen property over that time.

Six Arrested in Gift Card Fraud Bust Worth Over $3M
Investigators from York Regional Police (Canada) have made six arrests in connection with a gift card scam involving victims in the US. The investigation began when an elderly victim in Utah received a computer pop-up saying his computer security had been compromised. When the victim called the provided phone number, he was instructed to purchase $22,000 in Home Depot gift cards. After purchasing the gift cards and providing the serial numbers to the suspect, the cards were redeemed at a Home Depot in Markham. Police say over 50 victims across the United States have fallen victim to the same suspects, with purchases totaling over $3 million. Investigators executed search warrants at five locations in Markham and Toronto, seizing approximately $600,000 in Home Depot products, as well as $67,000 in unused Home Depot store credit. Police believe there may be more victims, as well as further suspects. The investigation is ongoing.

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Fast Food Workers Arrested Over Extensive Theft Ring Run Out of a Chicken Restaurant
Three fast food employees have been arrested for running a complex and extensive theft ring out of a fried chicken restaurant, police say. The investigation began when investigators noted activity consistent with a fencing operation in which staff members of the restaurant were paying known shoplifters for items stolen from businesses in the area. Once Tucson Police Department investigators noted the magnitude and complexity of the investigation, agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and investigators from the affected business began working jointly. Authorities discovered that three of the restaurant’s employees were reselling the stolen items out of their own homes as well as on an online marketplace. The investigation, which lasted almost a year, came to a head when search warrants were served at the restaurant and two homes they had been surveilling. Police recovered thousands of dollars in stolen property to include tools, clothing, shoes, diapers, and electronics.

Police Detail Brothers’ $1M+ Organized Retail Theft Ring
A nearly year-long investigation into a retail theft ring in Hoover, Alabama has finally ended with the arrest of two brothers. As part of the operation, police say they have recovered roughly $30,000 worth of stolen items, and more arrests could be on the way. Police say the two brothers hired people to steal from stores in the Birmingham-Hoover metro area including Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Target. They then turned around and sold it online for less than what the store value is. According to police, one of their online accounts processed over $1 million in sales.

Homeland Security Officials Investigating Mexican Cartels’ Role in Organized Retail Theft
The investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security is actively looking into Mexican, Central American, and South American-based cartels involved in organized retail theft that is plaguing US retailers. Certain transnational criminal organizations across the Western Hemisphere are either affiliated with or involved in the multibillion-dollar retail crime pandemic, according to Homeland Security Investigations. Mexican cartels have become well known for smuggling people outside the United States over the border, as well as for trafficking all types of illicit narcotics, including fentanyl, into the country. But these and other criminal groups around the world, such as in Romania and Chile, have expanded their operations to include other money making initiatives, including crimes in the retail environment.

Raid Uncovers More Than $1M Worth of Stolen Cosmetics
Responding to a recent surge in retail theft, the California Highway Patrol announced it had seized more than $1 million in stolen items and arrested a Los Angeles woman in connection to a Southern California retail theft ring. The Organized Retail Crime Task Force of the CHP conducted a raid on a warehouse in the city of Paramount and a business called The Makeup Store, uncovering more than a million dollars worth of stolen cosmetics during the operation. In addition to the stolen property, police found tools used to remove anti-theft devices at the raided locations. Several loss prevention investigators from the affected retailers were on the scene, assisting in identifying stolen merchandise.

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Organized Retail Crime Pushes Store Workers to Strike
More than 400 Macy’s sales associates at three locations in the state of Washington went on strike on Black Friday, uniting in support of several employees who said they faced retaliation from the retailer for calling law enforcement when shoplifters struck. On the busiest shopping day of the year, the worker’s union held a rally near one of the stores, followed by a “Macy’s Striking Workers Parade.”

Man Arrested After Being Found With More Than 5,000 Gift Cards
During the recent retail theft operation “Operation Bad Elf,” a man was arrested after Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office detectives allegedly saw him switch out tampered gift cards with real gift cards. Deputies say they saw the suspect put all the gift cards on a rack inside his jacket and then replace them with a set of nearly identical ones. As they stopped him, they found he had more than 5,000 Apple and Target gift cards on him. The investigation found he was part of a nationwide scam that tampers with the gift cards, scans the bar code, and steals the money off them as it’s loaded on. Shoppers are asked to pay close attention when buying gift cards. Look for signs they’ve been tampered with like a scuff or scratch mark near the bar code.

Oakland Man Arrested in Alleged $137,000 Stolen Cigarette Fencing Operation
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has arrested an Oakland man for allegedly running a $137,000 stolen cigarette ring, an operation the CHP describes as “a sophisticated network involved in the illicit trade of stolen and unregulated tobacco items.” The investigation, which also involved the Oakland PD, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, and California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, got warrants served at what they say were “multiple locations in Oakland.” The CHP describes these locations as “one residence and three store fronts in Oakland,” so it seems there were multiple retailers involved, who may or may not have been aware that the cigarettes were stolen.

23 Accused of Organized Crime in Thefts of Over 40 Marijuana Dispensaries Around Denver
Nearly two dozen people face accusations of organized crime in the burglaries of more than 40 marijuana dispensaries around Denver, resulting in the theft of approximately $780,000 in cash and property. Following multi-agency investigations conducted by city, state, and nationwide agencies, 23 people accused of being part of two separate organized crime groups will be charged with stealing or carjacking vehicles and using them to burglarize marijuana dispensaries, federal firearms licensees, and other businesses in the Denver metro area between September 2022 and November 2023, according to Denver District Attorney Beth McCann. The defendants will face other charges including aggravated robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms (including a firearm linked to an open murder investigation), and violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.

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$500K Retail Theft Ring Targeted Home Depot, Lowe’s
Authorities have arrested three people and seized roughly $500,000 worth of merchandise stolen from home improvement stores, the California Highway Patrol announced. The suspects face charges including organized retail theft, receiving stolen property, and weapons-related offenses. CHP’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force raided a hardware and plumbing supply business where they discovered a massive stockpile of stolen goods. Items recovered included small tools, buckets of paint, extension ladders, and plumbing fixtures, along with larger and more expensive items such as water heaters and furnaces which were taken by various “boosters” from the home improvement stores. Investigators also recovered five firearms and approximately $30,000 in cash.

$600K Worth of Stolen Items Seized During LAPD Retail Theft Raid
The Los Angeles Police Department raided several businesses in the Westlake area believed to be linked to a retail theft operation. Officers with Rampart Division seized approximately $300,000 worth of stolen items. Video from the scene showed officers load a semi truck full of diapers, computers, energy drinks, soft drinks, a gun, and much more. The raid is part of a crackdown on brick-and-mortar stores that sell stolen goods. According to Sheriff Robert Luna, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Burglary-Robbery Task Force has made 254 arrests, served 142 search warrants, and recovered nearly $600,000 in stolen merchandise within the last three months of the task force being created.

More Indictments in Memphis Retail Theft Ring
At the end of June, Memphis Police announced arrests and indictments in “Operation Broken Bottles,” an investigation into a “mob-like ring” behind smash and grab burglaries. “Ruthless” burglaries that targeted various liquor stores, clothing outlets, cell phone retailers, and smoke shops throughout Memphis prompted an “intensive investigation” called “Operation Broken Bottles,” Cars that were driven through storefronts as well as sledgehammers were used in this “criminal conspiracy,” that was well-organized and led by a handful of people who recruited others to carry out crimes. At the time, a total of 23 suspects were arrested for charges including burglary of a business, auto theft, theft from a motor vehicle, unlawful possession, and prohibited weapons. Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy has announced that an additional 12 people have been indicted in connection with the organized retail theft rings.

Californian Sentenced in Nebraska for One-Man Crime Spree at Walmarts Across the US
A man was sentenced in federal court in Lincoln, Nebraska for thefts from Walmart stores across the country, the US Attorney’s Office says. The suspect stole from Walmart cash registers “spanning from Washington to Massachusetts and from Texas to Wisconsin,” the US Attorney’s Office said. In total, he stole $690,484.

Police in Vancouver and Kelowna Arrest Hundreds in Crackdown on Violent Shoplifters
A coordinated three-week crackdown on violent shoplifters in Vancouver and Kelowna, Canada has led to hundreds of arrests and dozens of seized weapons, along with the recovery of more than $110,000 in stolen goods. Project Barcode had plainclothes officers visit about 30 stores in Vancouver and several more in Kelowna as part of a countrywide effort to stem the tide of increasingly aggressive retail thieves. In Vancouver, police made 268 arrests, seized 31 weapons and returned about $102,000 in stolen merchandise to the targeted stores.

California Gang Members Accused of Stealing $200,000 Worth of Booze and Pills
After an extensive investigation spanning several months collaborating with several allied agencies and loss prevention partners, Riverside Sheriff’s Southwest Station deputies were able to identify four suspects involved in high-end liquor and pharmacy burglaries throughout the Southern California region. The investigation revealed this organized retail crime crew stole over $200,000 of high-end alcohol and prescription medication and caused over $50,000 in damages during the burglaries. It was also learned the suspects were associated with a Los Angeles-based gang and were selling the stolen items for profit. The suspects are responsible for approximately 40 burglaries. Search warrants were served where clothing, stolen prescription medication, and high-end alcohol were found along with six firearms, which included unserialized guns and a firearm with an altered serial number.

4 Men Arrested in $1.5M Retail Theft Operation
Four men wanted in Vallejo, California for stealing about $1 million worth of merchandise from Ross and another $500,000 from another retail store were arrested in Fairfield after police said two of them were seen leaving a store with a shopping cart full of stolen items. During “Operation Christmas Thieves,” officers said they spied two men leaving a store with a shopping cart full of items they didn’t pay for. Police said they pulled over a vehicle where they discovered four men were inside a getaway vehicle. When the men were getting booked, it was determined they were wanted for stealing the merchandise from Ross and another store. Police said the men may also be suspects for thefts that happened in Concord.

Your input and support can help send a critical message. If you have an ORC case that you would like to submit for the monthly round-up, please forward an email to us at editor@lpportal.com.

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