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05/31/2022

New York shuts down major retail theft ring

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Retailers in New York may be able to breathe a little easier.

Chalk one up for the good guys – a multimillion dollar retail theft operation in New York City has been busted.

As the result of a three-year joint investigation conducted by the New York Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) and the New York City police department’s Grand Larceny Division, an organized crime operation that stole and resold millions of dollars in goods is shut down.

As outlined in an indictment unsealed on May 31, 2022, 41 people were charged for their alleged roles in a crime ring that stole luxury clothing and goods and thousands of items from drug stores that were then resold on eBay. During the investigation, law enforcement said it seized more than $3.8 million worth of stolen retail items, more than 550 stolen gift and cash cards, and more than $300,000 in cash.

Specific retail items the ring is accused of stealing include designer clothing, handbags, belts, and shoes; cosmetics; over-the-counter medications; miscellaneous drug store items; tools and electronics; and coffee. The cache of stolen gift cards is said to feature retailers including Amazon, Home Depot, Walgreens, Visa, Apple iTunes, Modell’s, Lowe’s, Kmart, American Express, and Pottery Barn.

The defendants are being charged with various counts of enterprise corruption, money laundering, criminal possession of stolen property, scheme to defraud and conspiracy.

Through electronic and physical surveillance, analysis of financial records, and other investigative tools, law enforcement said it found that since 2017, alleged ringleaders have been directing career larcenists to steal specific merchandise and gift cards from retailers. The ringleaders then purchased the stolen goods for fractions of the retail price and resold them for profit on an eBay store called Treasure-Deals-USA.

The larcenists are said to have brought stolen property to pawn and gold buying shops owned by the alleged top ringleader, where they were then purchased for 6 to 8% of their retail value for apparel items and one to two dollars per item for stolen pharmaceutical products, depending on the brand.

Since 2017, law enforcement says the Treasure Steals USA Operation has sold more than $1.3 million of stolen property. In December 2019, the alleged ringleader signed a lease for a large warehouse space located in Fresh Meadows, N.Y., where is accused of planning to open a “department store”-like facility stocked with stolen property. 

eBay and PayPal provided investigative resources. Organized retail crime personnel from Macy’s, CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid, and Lowe’s also participated in the investigation, as did the Department of Homeland Security.

“Today’s takedown of this massive retail theft operation is part of our continued efforts to combat crime and restore an environment where all New Yorkers feel secure,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “These individuals stole millions of dollars in luxury goods and cleared the shelves of drug stores in the communities we live and resold these goods for great profit. We will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to crackdown on crime and protect all our communities.”

“Today we are showing that New York City will not tolerate crime — street crime, retail crime, or organized crime,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “Public safety is the prerequisite to prosperity, and so we want to be clear that we will investigate, arrest, and prosecute criminals when they break the law. This wasn’t just shoplifting, but people going into stores and clearing off shelves as part of an organized crime ring. This massive retail-theft scheme affected every level of our economy, from department stores to big chains to independent businesses — all of whom were already impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to a finding from the newly released Jack L. Hayes International's 34th Annual Retail Theft Survey, shoplifting apprehensions decreased 16.2% in 2021, but the total amount of dollars recovered from shoplifters and dishonest employees — including apprehended and non-apprehended individuals — jumped 30.7%.

The charges against the defendants are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.