Losses from retail theft have presented a major challenge for Portland, Oregon retailers in recent weeks. After receiving a tip from an informant that a North Portland convenience store was serving as a front for criminal operations, the Fred Meyer loss prevention team, in conjunction with the Northwest Organized Retail Crime Alliance (NWORCA), launched an undercover investigation.
The three suspects involved in the investigation—Pitya Lojuan, James Morodai, and Ezekeil Karim Shabazz–were accused of purchasing stolen property from TNT Market, a convenience store on N. Vancouver Ave. in Portland. According to police, two of the suspects had even created lists of specific items they wanted to purchase in the future.
In an August 13 search of TNT Market, investigators recovered a variety of stolen products, including alcohol, cigarettes, cash, clothing, and more. On August 31, a Multnomah County grand jury indicted both Lojuan and Shabazz. Lojuan received three counts of money laundering, eight counts of attempted first-degree theft, and three counts of unlawful use of food stamp benefits, while Shabazz faces only one count of unlawful use of a food stamp benefit. Morodai has yet to be charged with any crimes.
When it comes to organized retail theft, criminals who steal items and resell them on the black market are known as ‘boosters,’ while those individuals who purchase stolen property are called ‘fences.’ According to police, fences will often use a legitimate business, such as a convenience store, as a hub for repackaging and/or reselling stolen goods.
According to retail theft statistics by the National Retail Foundation, organized retail crime may account for nearly $30 billion in losses each year. Nearly all of the retailers (97%) surveyed for the report said they have been affected by ORC within the past year. Four out of five surveyed retailers support the need a federal ORC law.