DENVER CO Feb 13 2012 - You may think of shoplifting as a petty crime, stealing small items for personal gain, but that’s not what this story is about. This is about organized retail crime – gangs of shoplifters who are targeting Colorado stores.
The losses are staggering – half a billion dollars a year in Colorado alone and $30 to $50 billion nationwide.
On Friday, a Colorado lawmaker will lay out his plan to change the law and crack down on these shoplifting gangs.
Rep. Mark Barker (R-Colorado Springs) is going to introduce a bill in the State House that will crack down on organized retail crime and give law enforcement more options.
“Instead of taking each offense one at a time and dealing with them separately, it allows them to aggregate the offenses over the state and perhaps even over multiple states and charge them under the organized crime act,” Barker said.
The bill will also crack down on the stores that knowingly buy stolen goods and resell them. It will also have a provision to do more education of law enforcement about why organized shoplifting is a crime worth fighting.
Professional shoplifters are known in the retail industry as “boosters.” The items you pay for are the same items they steal.
From health and beauty products to baby formula to batteries, there’s a long list of items preferred by boosters.
9Wants to Know interviewed an organized retail crime investigator, who we’ll call Tom. He cannot reveal his true identity because he is actively involved in undercover investigations.
“We’ve seen them steal up to $2,000 or $3,000 within minutes,” Tom said.
Tom is not a police officer. He works for a major grocery chain. All the big stores hire people like Tom, who often operate like undercover cops.
It can be a dangerous job.
“I know people who’ve been stabbed or had a gun pulled on them, or had them try to run over them with a car,” Tom said.
Already this year, there have been two incidents in Colorado where shoplifters blasted guards with pepper spray while making a run for it.
Lakewood Police Chief Kevin Paletta calls it a troubling sign organized retail crime rings are becoming more brazen.
“They’re desperate. Their livelihood depends on it. Many times their life may depend on it,” Paletta said.
Paletta was on a task force to fight organized retail crime. He says once an item is stolen, it’s tough to trace.
Stolen items are sometimes sold online, or at smaller stores and shops that purchase stolen goods from boosters.
“Everybody is the victim in these types of cases. There are several outlets where these items wind up. Flea markets are an example,” Paletta said.
The Mile High Marketplace in Adams County is the largest year-round outdoor flea market in Colorado. Vendors caught selling stolen or counterfeit items are kicked out and reported to the authorities.
“Many very legitimate people are selling items at the flea market so somebody who is doing it illegally can sort of blend in with the people who are there legitimately,” Paletta said.
9Wants to Know went undercover with Tom and another investigator as they searched for stolen items.
They bought two brand-name face lotions from two different vendors for a fraction of the retail price. The boxes still had security stickers, one from a Safeway in Arvada, and the other from a CVS in Florida.
“We strongly believe these could be stolen products,” Tom said.
Both vendors denied selling stolen items.
“When you’re opening something out of a package that’s selling for one tenth of what it would at a store, there is a high likelihood that it is stolen,” Paletta said.
One of the vendors, Yonoea Stadler, provided 9Wants to Know with a Safeway receipt that shows lotion was purchased from the store in 2007.
Stadler says most of her products come from a wholesaler who buys in bulk what mainstream stores can no longer sell.
“A lot of them are good way beyond their actual expiration date,” Stadler said.
Stadler says she has been approached to buy stolen items, but always says no.
“It’s hurting other legitimate vendors out there. It causes prices to go up for everybody,” Stadler said.
Proving an item was stolen is difficult, unless you have video of an actual sale taking place.
9Wants to Know obtained video of an organized retail crime investigator posing as a shoplifter and selling a bag full of items to a convenience store near the State Capitol.
“I have two bottles of shampoo. I’ve got six things of deodorant, and I’ve got two of these. I got to pay my rent. I’m poor. This is like $100 worth of stuff,” the female investigator said in the undercover video.
The camera then shows a clerk handing over $15 cash
9Wants to Know Investigative Reporter Will Ripley went to the store and a different clerk told him they’re not allowed to buy stolen products. When Ripley informed the clerk there was video of a store employee paying cash to an undercover agent posing as a booster, the clerk said it is not a regular practice to buy stolen items.
“We’re not allowed to. If somebody does, he gets fired right away,” the clerk said.
Paletta says shoplifting been tied to violent crimes like assault, as well as human trafficking and drug smuggling.
“It’s many times a gateway crime to much larger criminal enterprises,” Paletta said.
9Wants to Know obtained federal court documents from a case out of Texas where an organized retail crime ring was sending money to the Middle East.
“It had ties, solid ties, back to Hezbollah,” Tom said.
In 2003, 18 arrest warrants were issued, 11 convenience stores were closed, and massive amounts of merchandise were seized by investigators. They also recovered nearly a quarter million dollars in cash.
The leader of the ring, Mohammed Khalil Ghali, is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence.
You may not even realize you’re buying stolen merchandise – or what your money is paying for.
“We have seen their behavior escalate. You’re actually supporting and sustaining this criminal enterprise,” Paletta said.
The global crime is on the rise here in Colorado.
Lakewood Police recently broke up an organized retail crime ring from El Salvador and they’re investigating ties to drug and human trafficking.
The legislation that will be introduced Friday would allow law enforcement to group these crimes together, possibly even charge them under the organized crime act.
Retailers and investigators say, until these shoplifting rings are taken more seriously, their crimes will only get worse.
Los Altos CA Feb 13 2012 A former City of Los Altos employee, suspected of stealing more than $30,000 from the city through fraudulent transactions, surrendered Monday to police after law enforcement obtained a $50,000 arrest warrant for the employee, police said.
Mountain View resident Michael Nicolas Trautman, 41, served as the city’s information technology manager and was hired by the city in November 2007 after a “complete” background check that “found no questionable personal or professional activities,” according to a statement issued by the city today.
Trautman resigned in December 2011. Assistant City Manager Jane Logan said that, in his stated reasons for his resignation, Trautman “did not link it to anything involved in the investigation.”
In early December, the Police Department was alerted to a suspicious transaction involving the use of a city purchasing card. According to police, the transaction was discovered during a routine review of conference expenses incurred by Trautman.
According to Logan, Trautman had been attending a conference discussing the use of technology in police cars, which was within the scope of his duties.
Logan said that the city’s annual audits failed to detect any impropriety, prompting the city to have since retained an independent certified professional accounting firm to review its purchasing procedures to see if internal controls can be strengthened.
“We really didn’t know what was going on until police got more into the discovery of it,” Logan said.
Police said that an audit of Trautman’s city-related financial records uncovered “numerous discrepancies,” including the purchase of electronics equipment, and that Trautman allegedly submitted forged supporting documents totaling more than $30,000.
The warrant for Trautman’s arrest was issued after the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office issued a criminal complaint of grand theft against Trautman.
He surrendered on Monday and posted bond, police said. According to the city, it retains an insurance policy that covers employee theft.
Danville woman arrested for leaving newborn twins in car while she went shopping www.privateofficer.com
PLEASANTON CA Feb 13 2012 – A Danville woman could face child endangerment charges after police say she left her newborn twins in her car while she went shopping earlier this week.
Amanda Nejat, 46, was arrested Wednesday afternoon after the incident at Stoneridge mall and has since posted bail. She faces two potential counts of willful harm or endangerment to a child; her case was sent to the District Attorney’s Office on Friday for review.
According to Pleasanton police, a shopper had just parked in the Nordstrom parking lot about 4 p.m. Wednesday when she heard a baby crying as she walked past a Cadillac Escalade. When she peered through the tinted glass, she saw two 11-week-old babies in child seats.
“She doesn’t see adults in the car and sees these two babies crying, so she immediately calls us,” said Officer Larry Cox.
The passer-by also called mall security, who stood guard at the vehicle when Nejat returned. Cox said she complied with the guards’ orders that she wait for police to arrive.
Cox said the woman at first told officers she had just ducked into the mall to use the restroom, but that contradicted security footage that suggested she had been inside for at least 40 minutes. She eventually admitted that she was returning items at the mall.
The infants did not suffer any harm and were released to the custody of their father, Cox said. It also appears that the windows of the Escalade were left slightly open. He credited the quick thinking of the shopper who discovered the unattended children.
“She did a great job, did everything we would have wanted her to do,” Cox said.
Nejat was booked into Santa Rita Jail but was freed on bail Thursday afternoon. As of Friday afternoon, charges had not been filed.
Cox said the arrest should serve as a cautionary tale against leaving infants unattended for even a moment.
“Infants 11 weeks old being left in the car for 40 minutes, there’s a likelihood for injury, even death, to occur,” he said. “It was appropriate she was arrested. Our job is to protect people, including these infants.”
Avoyelles Parish LA Feb 13 2012 A School District employee was arrested Tuesday on charges of theft, Marksville police said.
Robert Gaspard Jr., 42, of 198 Cadu Lane, Marksville, was charged with felony theft and malfeasance in office. Police said three district-owned iPads were stolen.
Authorities said Gaspard sold the iPads to his nieces.
Attempts to reach Avoyelles Parish School District Superintendent Dewayne Lemoine for comment were unsuccessful.
Lowell MA Feb 13 2012 Police say 14 people have been arrested following a brawl at a city nightclub in which chairs, tables and beer bottles were thrown.
Police say the brawl at Fortunato’s, also known as Club 44, at about 1:30 a.m. Friday required every Lowell officer on duty as well as officers from Dracut, Tyngsborough, UMass-Lowell and state police to quell.
There were as many as 200 people in the club at the time.
Three officers were injured when patrons threw beer bottles at them.
Most of those arrested were from the Merrimack Valley, but some were from as far away as Cambridge and Boston. They ranged in age from 18 to 33. They face charges from assault and battery on a police officer to disorderly conduct.
Eugene OR Feb 13 2012 Police say a former employee of a local recreational vehicle dealership used the company’s credit card to rack up more than $55,000 in charges.
Sammantha Louise Perryman, 38, was arrested on Thursday. She worked as an accountant at George Sutton RV in Eugene, police said.
Perryman faces charges of aggravated first-degree theft, fraudulent use of a credit card and aggravated identity theft in connection with the case.
Perryman also is charged with second-degree theft for allegedly stealing money from a fund for the Thurston High School senior night all-night party in 2010, police said.
Eugene police began an investigation in January after one of the RV dealership’s owners noticed several unauthorized transactions on the company’s credit card statement.
A subsequent audit revealed losses totaling more than $55,000, police said.
Perryman, a Springfield resident, was hired by the dealership in May 2010. She was fired last month, about the same time police launched their investigation.
Police said they found that Perryman used the company’s credit card to buy gift cards with which she then used to buy items for herself.
Court records show that Perryman was convicted of first-degree theft in 2008. In that case, she was sentenced to two days in jail and ordered to pay $1,610 in restitution to the victim.
Dallas TX Feb 13 2012 A former IRS employee will spend some time in prison after stealing people’s identities and collecting tax refunds for himself.
Thomas W. Richardson of Mansfield, Texas was sentenced Thursday to 105 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $30,000 in restitution following an August guilty plea to one count of theft of government property and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Richardson admitted that he caused, or personally filed 29 fraudulent 2005 individual income tax returns. The fraudulent returns claimed a refund of between $215,000 and $473,000. The refunds claimed by all of the returns totaled more than $7,922,000. He filed these returns within a two-day period between April 15th to April 17th, 2006.
The returns, all filed as married couples filing jointly, were filed with social security numbers, and most of those matched the names attached to the return. Richardson admitted that the tax returns were prepared without the approval of the 58 taxpayers listed. All of the refunds were paid into one of Richardson’s bank accounts.
The Internal Revenue Service paid out seven refunds totaling over $1,865,000. All but $30,649 was recovered.
VIENNA WV Feb 13 2012- What started as a typical Saturday afternoon at Grand Central Mall was interrupted for about two minutes as the food court was hit by a flash mob demonstrating their Zumba moves to mall patrons.
Brian Anderson, owner of Zk Fitness in Marietta, which opened in December, organized the flash mob.
Anderson has been a certified personal trainer for eight years and a certified Zumba instructor for five years and said he wanted to highlight a different aspect of fitness through the demonstration. He said the flash mob had been in the planning stages for about two months.
“The concept of my gym is show that fitness has more than just a physical benefit, it also has a mental benefit,” he said. “As seen here you can have fun with it, let loose with the stress of life, the stress of family, money and fitness can be a way to release for yourself.”
As the mob assembled from the food court, several patrons, with camera phones or small digital cameras in hand, caught all or part of the Zumba demonstration.
Anderson said he just wants to show how fitness can be different.
“The Mid-Ohio Valley area does not concentrate as much on health as it should, I think,” he said. “I think this will help bring awareness you can do anything you enjoy and turn into something healthy for you, such as dance.”
Anderson said he chose the mall for its size and because it is a place where people gather.
“In general there are not too many public places you can go to with space for us to move around,” he said. “The mall was a natural spot because people gather here and we knew we’d have an instant audience pretty much. None of the stores would be large enough.”
Anderson said the mob’s performance was stopped near its end by mall security officers.
“They said they would have preferred we had contacted mall management to be cleared first,” he said. “They said it was for safety issues and I perfectly understand that.”
Before they began, Anderson said the mob members had a group discussion about safety and how it was to be their utmost concern.
“It went fine and there were no problems,” he said.
Anderson said there was no further incident with security.
About 40 people were to be part of the mob, Anderson said, and he estimated about 50 people showed up for the event.
Monroe LA Feb 13 2012 Monroe police arrested two women Thursday night accused of stealing nearly $7,000 worth of merchandise from a store since December.
Karen Natt, 27, of 713 Beverly St., Monroe, and April Jacobs, 38, of 1705 Hollywood Drive, Monroe, were booked into Ouachita Correctional Center, each on a charge of theft.
According to arrest affidavits, police were called to a local department store in reference to a reported theft.
When police arrived, they spoke to an employee, who said two other employees, identified as Natt and Jacobs, had worked together to steal nearly $7,000 worth of merchandise from the store.
The report stated Jacobs told police she stole about $100 worth of merchandise and helped Natt with stealing about $1,000. Natt told police she took about $6,000 worth of items and admitted to helping Jacobs.
Both suspects’ bonds were $8,000.
Las Vegas NV Feb 13 2012 One of the sports memorabilia dealers whom O.J. Simpson was convicted of robbing in a down-market Las Vegas hotel is now fighting his own court battle.
Bruce Fromong, who testified against Simpson in the 2008 armed robbery trial, is accused of shoplifting from the Nellis Air Force Base Exchange near Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday.
Authorities say that in October, Fromong swiped a Madden football PlayStation game from its package and a Case Logic briefcase; and that in November he removed another Madden disc from its package, taped up the box and put it back on the shelf.
In 2007, Fromong and Alfred Beardsley had gone to the Palace Station hotel expecting to sell Simpson collectibles to a wealthy buyer. The meeting was a ruse. Simpson and a ragtag band of men –- two of them armed -– stormed into Room 1203 and scooped up dozens of items. Simpson claimed he was merely trying to get back memorabilia stolen from him.
Fromong made for a particularly interesting witness. He and Simpson had been such close friends, he said, that the football star used to sing “Happy Birthday” to Fromong’s mother over the phone. But defense attorneys attacked him as a leech hoping to cash in on Simpson’s infamy. A recording captured Fromong telling someone minutes after the robbery: “I’ll have ‘Inside Edition’ down here for us tomorrow. I told them I want big money.”
Jurors quickly convicted Simpson, who had been acquitted years before in the slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. A Las Vegas judge sentenced the former football star to between nine and 33 years in prison.
Macon GA Feb 13 2012 Two accused shoplifters are on the run after a Lowe’s security officer was stabbed Tuesday night at the Watson Boulevard store in Warner Robins.
A news release from the Warner Robins Police Department explains that loss prevention officers noticed two men shoplifting and followed them to the parking lot shortly before 7 p.m.
While trying to detain the men, one of the suspects stabbed a store employee in the chest before the men ran off, the release stated.
The victim was taken to Houston Medical Center and is expected to survive.
No further details were immediately available.
Palo Alto CA Feb 13 2012 A suspected shoplifter tried to wrestle and bite her way to freedom after being stopped by Nordstrom loss prevention officers at Stanford Shopping Center on Wednesday, a police lieutenant said.
Jennifer O. Pederson, 49, of San Francisco walked out of the high-end retailer at about 7 p.m. with a pair of handbags and a leather jacket worth $1,000, said Lt. Zach Perron of the Palo Alto Police Department. She allegedly fought back when two loss prevention officers went to place her under a citizen’s arrest.
“It was essentially a violent wrestling match,” said Perron, adding that Pederson tried to bite one of the loss prevention officers.
The officers managed to subdue Pederson before police arrived, Perron said. One of the officers suffered scrapes, but the other officer and the woman were not injured.
Police arrested Pederson on suspicion of felony robbery, said Perron, explaining that the shoplifting attempt escalated to robbery when she tussled with the two officers.
“Once loss prevention tries to stop you and you start using force to get away, you’re trying to take the property by force,” he said.
Pederson was also arrested in connection with a separate shoplifting episode that took place at the department store about an hour and a half earlier. One of the loss prevention officers had spotted her leaving with two handbags worth $300, Perron said, but she got into a waiting truck before he could stop her.
The officer alerted his colleague when he saw the truck return later that evening, Perron said.
In addition to robbery, Pederson was arrested on suspicion of burglary, possessing stolen property, possessing burglary tools, conspiracy and possessing marijuana. The handbags stolen earlier that day and a small amount of marijuana, were found in the truck, Perron said.
Police also detained a man who was with Pederson when she returned to the department store, Perron said. Donald M. Hall, 26, of Daly City was arrested on suspicion of possessing forged checks, possessing methamphetamines, possessing narcotics paraphernalia, being under the influence of a controlled substance and for two warrants totaling $160,000.
Hall was wanted for a $100,000 warrant out of Tehama County for evading Red Bluff police and for a $60,000 warrant out of San Francisco for indecent exposure, according to Perron.
Both Pederson and Hall were booked into Santa Clara County Main Jail.
Jacksonville Fla Feb 13 2012 The man who was killed early Sunday by an off-duty police officer after brandishing a gun in a crowded nightclub parking lot has been identified as Nicholas Samuel Underwood of Jacksonville.
Underwood, 24, of West Fifth Street, was shot after ignoring repeated commands by the officer, Michael D. Peterson, to drop his gun and get on the ground, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Chief Tom Hackney said at a news conference.
The incident unfolded at Club Aqua at 11000 Beach Blvd. after a night of fights and threats involving several patrons inside the club, Hackney said.
After the club’s 2 a.m. closing time, several hundred patrons were milling about in the parking lot. Peterson and another officer, who were in uniform working security, overheard comments in the crowd that a man who had been kicked out of the club said he was going to get a gun from his vehicle.
Peterson retrieved his department-issued AR-15 rifle from his vehicle. He confronted the man after two patrons pointed him out, Hackney said.
Despite Peterson’s commands to stop, the man continued to walk toward the front of the club, with the gun raised in his hand. Peterson fired his weapon 5 times, striking Underwood in the “upper body” and killing him, Hackney said.
No one else was injured.
Police said they do not whether the eviction was what prompted Underwood to get the gun.
Underwood had no police record in Jacksonville but did in Broward County. The nature of those charges was not immediately available, though court records there show two misdemeanor cases.
The club across from the Beach Boulevard Flea Market in a shopping strip mall. Some businesses in the strip mall were slightly damaged in the shooting, Hackney said.
Sunday’s shooting was the first for Peterson, a 12-year veteran. He was placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which Hackney said is standard practice in a police shooting.
Underwood’s death is the fourth police shooting in 2012, the second that was a fatality, according to a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
The first shooting happened during a drug bust gone awry, and the other fatal shooting this year involved a 17-year-old holding a fake gun during a robbery. A suspect wanted on charges of felony domestic battery was also shot this year after he rammed his car into a cruiser, police said.
Henderson Nev Police investigating robbery at jewelry store inside Galleria Mall www.privateofficer.com
HENDERSON, Nev.Feb 13 2012 – Henderson Police are investigating a robbery at the Ben Bridge Jewelers inside the Galleria Mall.
Police say three men entered the jewelry store, smashed several cases and fled the scene. No one was injured. The mall was evacuated.
Police are now going throughout the mall searching for suspects and searching people as they leave.
College Station police charge shoplifter with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon www.privateofficer.com
College Station TX Feb 13 2012 A 21-year-old Bryan woman was arrested Friday on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and theft after attempting to take items from the Walmart in College Station and hitting a store employee with her car, police said.
A College Station police officer responding to a reported theft at the store spotted the woman, later identified as Lamonica Renee Vasquez, driving a car that fit the description provided by the Walmart security worker who had reported the theft.
The worker had tried to detain Vasquez after recovering items that she allegedly had stolen but she ran to her car, police said. The employee was standing behind her car and calling police when she backed up and hit him, causing a sharp pain in his right knee. The worker told police that he had to move out of the way to avoid being hit again.
After police pulled Vasquez over, the officer asked her what had happened after she had left the Walmart. She said she had given the associate the items before leaving the store and that he had run after her and hit her car, police said.
Officers also found that Vasquez had two active warrants for previous thefts that she had been charged within the last three months.
She was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000, and three misdemeanor counts of theft. Vasquez was released Saturday after posting $19,435 bail.