Theft from retail centers costs shoppers, stores

Shoplifters who swipe merchandise off store shelves aren’t just costing retailers big bucks; consumers are literally paying the price, too, police and retail officials say.

Police say the estimated $12 billion a year stores spend to combat theft pales in comparison to what they lose at the hands or organized retail theft rings.

“They are spending pennies to save thousands,” said Middletown police Sgt. Steve Ream.

Organized retail theft is estimated to cost retailers across the country $30 billion a year, according to the National Retail Federation. And a good portion of those losses are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Dennis D. Dansak, senior corporate manager of organized retail crime at Kroger, said his company’s goal is to keep products available and prices low. But organized retail theft drives up prices on popular products and can keep store shelves bare, he said.

Middletown police recently broke up a multi-million dollar, regional shoplifting ring after a six-week investigation that spanned four counties and involved police agencies in 13 different jurisdictions. Police have arrested more than 60 men and women on more than 116 theft charges and other assorted felonies and misdemeanors.

The thieves, also known as “boosters,” work in teams of two to eight people and have victimized stores along Interstate 75, such as Kroger, Walmart, Meijer, CVS, Walgreens and Family Dollar.

Since the thieves work in teams to steal merchandise, police departments and retail stores are using the same strategy to catch them, they said. A joint undercover task force consisting of police departments in Middletown, Troy, Urbana, Moraine, West Chester Twp., Colerain Twp. and Miamisburg and sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices in Warren, Clinton and Fayette counties recovered more than $300,000 in merchandise stolen by boosters.

Dansak applauded the police agencies saying they “worked extremely well together” to bring down the theft ring. Once operations like this are completed, Dansak said, Kroger typically sees a “sharp decrease” in the number and value of the thefts. But eventually, he admitted, those thieves are replaced.

Eight in 10 retailers say organized retail crime has increased over the last three years, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2013 survey. In recent years, stores have fought a constant battle against the thieves who use technology like cell phones to coordinate their operations and can whip out a shelf in the matter of a few seconds.

They load up their carts with popular items, such as laundry detergent, cologne, perfume and body wash, they perform a “push out,” when they simply push their carts out of the doors to a get-away vehicle, ignoring the security alarms or the store’s staff.

“There is a low chance of getting caught and a high reward,” said Dansak, who’s been in his position with Kroger for four years. “They can make a good living.”

Sometimes, he said, they do what’s called “nesting,” when they take paper towels and other items and hide what they’re stealing.

“They need the cash to feed their drug addiction,” he said of the thieves, who steal every day, sometimes three or four times a day.

He said the stolen items then are sold to “fences” for pennies on the dollar. Eventually, the items may end up at local flea markets or the Internet, he said. Dansak has toured the flea markets and seen products that he knows were stolen from Kroger, selling for less than 50 percent of the suggested retail price, or less than it costs Kroger to purchase the same product wholesale.

He called them “professional thieves” who make their living steals from retail centers throughout the United States. He said one theft ring was caught with more 86,000 pair of Levis and another had skids of baby formula. The items eventually are distributed to “fences” who are doing business in neighboring cities or even states.

To combat this, Kroger and other retail stores worked with Middletown police and surrounding agencies. Numerous times the stores gave police product to help them catch “fences” purchasing what they thought was stolen merchandise.

Of those arrested during the operation, 32 suspects were from Middletown; six from Franklin; six from Cincinnati; three from Dayton; two from Trenton; two from South Lebanon; one each from Germantown, Springboro, Lebanon, Monroe and West Carrollton; and one from the state of Virginia, arrest reports show.

According to the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office, from Feb. 7-25, 2013, 2/7/13 six people were charged with committing shoplifting at Walmart in Franklin and Middletown, with the estimated value of the merchandise in excess of $7,500,00.

Those indicted Monday in Warren County: Denarius L. Stewart, 26, 2022 W. Grand Ave., Dayton, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, F-2 and grand theft, F-4; Monuette E. Rushin, 37, 2785 Infirmary Road, Dayton, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and grand theft; David Dodson, 31, 813 S. Paul Laurence Dunbar St., Dayton, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and grand theft; Stephan L. Wright, 20, 2972 Brumbaugh Blvd., Dayton, grand theft; Candis A. Hamilton, 23, 2111 Pompano Circle, Dayton, grand theft and Anthony L. Gannaway, 27, 4601 Prescott Ave, Dayton., grand theft.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said the indictments are a result of the Middletown task force investigation.

“These are professional thieves. Stealing is their job,” Fornshell said, noting the engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity is the state equivalent to the federal racketeering charge.

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