State Dismantles Huge Upstate Shoplifting Ring
Attorney General Spitzer and State Police Superintendent James McMahon announced a series of indictments to break up a vast shoplifting ring that targeted hundreds of retail stores in at least 11 upstate counties.
The indictment of 25 individuals today, and the guilty pleas of three other individuals last month, are the result of a year-long investigation by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force and the State Police. The investigation used wiretaps, video surveillance, undercover agents and search warrants to break up the Utica-based ring that officials believe was the largest of its kind in upstate New York.
"The individuals involved in this ring set out to plunder upstate stores on a daily basis," said Spitzer. "The extent of this crime and the frequency with which it occurred is shocking. Thanks to a cooperative effort by my office, the State Police and local retailers, this ring of criminals, which plagued area businesses for so long and at such enormous cost, is now out of business -- permanently."
"This type of organized crime is among the many challenges facing legitimate New York business enterprises today," Superintendent McMahon said. "Unfortunately, large scale thefts such as these add to the overhead expenses that must be borne by retailers. Ultimately, these costs are passed along to the consumer. I am pleased that the teamwork between the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force and the New York State Police has put this organization out of business.’
James Sherin, Vice Chairman of the Retail Council of New York State said: "The stunning success announced here this morning is proof that shoplifting is hardly a ‘garden variety’ or victimless crime perpetrated by pranksters. It is increasingly evident that retail theft has become a sophisticated web of high-priced and high-tech fraud plaguing retailers and consumers throughout New York State. We congratulate Attorney General Spitzer, Superintendent McMahon and the state’s law enforcement community for recognizing that retail theft is a serious threat to New York’s economic well-being."
Based on information developed during the investigation, officials believe that the ring stole goods valued in the tens of millions of dollars from hundreds of stores in an area roughly bounded by Syracuse, Albany and Glens Falls. Among stores targeted by the ring were national retail chains such as Wal-Mart, K-Mart, CVS, Eckerd Drugs, Ames, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Sears, J.C. Penney, Staples, Office Max and Hallmark.
Members of the ring are alleged to have targeted specific items that were believed to be easy to resell. The items include: Walt Disney videos, Gillette razor blades, Duracell and Eveready batteries, compact discs, Nintendo and Play Station video games, Texas Instruments calculators, over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol and Advil, Kodak and Fuji film and disposable cameras, Braun and Norelco electric razors, Craftsman tools and Sony compact radios and CD players.
Multiple teams of two or three shoplifters -- so-called ‘boosters’ -- ventured from Utica nearly every day, with each team hitting as many as 20 stores in a day and sometimes making repeated shoplifting trips into the same store in the course of an hour or two.
One way in which the ring operated was for a booster to walk into a store, place clothing items in a shopping cart and then proceed to the electronics section where he or she would place dozens of CDs or videos under the clothing. After abandoning the cart in a different section of the store the individual would leave the building. Moments later a second booster would approach the cart, stuff the merchandise under his coat and walk out to join his partner in a getaway car.
Information developed during the investigation shows that an individual booster might net $300,000 to $400,000-worth of stolen property per year.
Other alleged members of the ring had the specific duty of selling the stolen merchandise. These so-called ‘fences’ gave the boosters general operating instructions to steal the latest Disney video or Braun electric razors, for example, that the ring then sought to resell. Fences also gave boosters expense money to cover the cost of gas, tolls and meals for that day’s shoplifting expedition, and paid them 20-33 percent of the sticker price of the stolen goods.
Six defendants in the case -- three fences and three boosters -- are charged with Enterprise Corruption, a Class B felony with a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison. In addition, all the defendants are charged with 4th-degree Conspiracy, a Class E felony with a maximum penalty of four years in prison. Also, some defendants face 4th-degree Grand Larceny and 4th-degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property charges, both Class E felonies with maximum penalties of four years in prison.
These charges are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Information developed during the investigation shows that the shoplifting ring operated throughout a wide-ranging upstate area that included Albany, Cayuga, Fulton, Herkimer, Madison, Montgomery, Oneida, Onondaga, Saratoga, Schenectady and Warren counties.
The case is being handled by Assistant Deputy Attorney General Alan Blumenkopf of the Organized Crime Task Force and by State Police Troop D Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Special Investigation Unit and Community Narcotics Enforcement Team.
DEFENDANTS IN THE UTICA SHOPLIFTING AND FENCING RING