PHOENIX, AZ (September 14, 2011) An organized group of retail rip-off crews that targeted major shopping malls, outlet stores and strip centers throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area is now out of operation, thanks to a cooperative enforcement action by the Phoenix Police Department in partnership with Glendale and Mesa Police Departments, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and private security officers of Macerich Management Systems. Sixteen suspects are now facing charges including Assisting in a Criminal Syndicate, Assisting in a Criminal Syndicate with a Minor, Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices, Organized Retail Theft, Trafficking in Stolen Property, Misconduct Involving Weapons and Threatening and Intimidating.
Co-conspirators from this organization were initially identified by security officers of Macerich Management Systems at the Paradise Valley Mall in June, 2011. The subsequent investigation involved officers from the Desert Horizon Precinct’s Neighborhood Enforcement Team, supervised by Sergeant Aimee Smith of the Phoenix Police Department, and also included officers with the Glendale Police Department and the Mesa Police Department.
The Organization used several different crews of 2 to 5 shoplifters who would enter various malls as a group and specifically target certain stores that did not have significant video surveillance and were easy to get in and out of very quickly. Their typical MO would be to “stage” the clothes in a store prior to the act of shoplifting so as to get various sizes, colors, or styles of an item, and to obtain anything they personally wanted.
Usually, the “shoplifters” had department store bags hidden on their persons, or they would walk in carrying their own large bags. They would act quickly, placing merchandise in their bags once inside the store. They would then simply walk out of the store, usually handing the bag of stolen items to another co-conspirator, who would sometimes hand the bag to yet another accomplice who would be waiting outside. After leaving the store, they would drop the stolen merchandise in their car, go back into the mall and do the same thing at another store, targeting several malls the same day. This organization had multiple shoplifting crews at several different malls at one time.
“I applaud the diligence, professionalism and painstaking attention to detail of our law enforcement partners in uncovering this criminal operation and allowing us to bring these individuals to justice,” remarked Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “This case underscores our combined commitment to root out organized retail crime in our community and protect hardworking business owners and the customers they serve,” he added.
Within a small crew of shoplifters, each crew member would typically keep some stolen items for their personal or family use, and then receive approximately 10% of the retail value of the remaining stolen items from the “re-sellers” in the Organization.
The re-entry point into the market occurred when the merchandise was filtered to these “re-sellers.” These “re-sellers” had “clients” who routinely purchased the stolen merchandise, either directly from their homes or at a preset meeting place.
Three ways that the Organization profited from these thefts were identified:
- Clients, known as “payans,” would pay 1/4 to 1/3 of MSRP
- Clients would purchase products for a flat rate, such as $5 per t-shirt, $10 for jeans, etc.
- Merchandise was taken to Mexico to be re-sold by unidentified co-conspirators in the organization
The shoplifters would plan their thefts anywhere from once a week, to as often as five times a week, depending on their need for personal items or cash. During one month, undercover officers observed members of this organization commit 26 separate felony acts of shoplifting. On average, each act caused the stores a minimum loss of $1,500. On the high end, the GAP Store in Anthem suffered a loss of $8,000.00. Investigators learned that this organization had been in operation for over six years. You can multiply the numbers to get a clear picture of the staggering losses sustained by these retail stores – losses that are passed on to you and me, the honest consumers.
As a result of this investigation, seven search warrants were served on suspects’ homes, resulting in the seizure of five vehicles, one handgun, and $4,500 in cash. A total of 3,495 individual items of property believed to be stolen were recovered, valued at $86,771.85. A total of 76 victims have been identified.
The primary malls that were victimized by this organization were Anthem Outlets, Desert Sky Mall, Arrowhead Town Center, San Tan Village Mall, Desert Ridge, Scottsdale Fashion Square, and Chandler Fashion Center. The main stores targeted were the Children’s Place, the GAP, Victoria’s Secret, Ralph Lauren Polo, Dillard’s, Sears, Hollister, Nike Outlet, Disney, Carter’s, Justice, and Banana Republic.
The charges announced today are not evidence of guilt. All suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty.