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Arizona Retailers Develop AZORCA Website To Combat Organized Retail Crime

In June 2011, surveillance video caught three women stealing more than $4,000 in lingerie from Victoria's Secret in a Valley mall. They easily escaped because they did recon on the store, knowing when to go…when no one would be at the store to stop them.

The trio was eventually caught, and a related investigation involving six Valley police departments lead to the arrest of 18-persons in a shoplifting ring. It also led to the recovery of nearly $155,000 in merchandise that was stolen from various major retailers like J.C. Penney Co. Inc., the Gap, Sears, Hollister Co., and Wet Seal Inc.

The National Retail Federation conducted a survey in 2011 and found that Phoenix currently ranks 10th in the frequency of organized retail crime. Nationally, this amounts to a $30 billion loss for the retail industry.

Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney recently announced a partnership with Arizona retailers to design a website that observes shoplifting rings and criminals. To fight shoplifting gangs, retailers have come together to form the Arizona Organized Retail Crime Alliance (or AZORCA).

They've also developed a secure website, allowing retailers and police to share data about any real time retail thefts. The websites makes use of reports and videos, sending out emails to approximately 240 participants so that they're made aware of the gang activity and ask them if they recognize any of the criminals.

How Do The Criminals Make Off With The Merchandise

How thieves get their hands on their merchandise is like this:

1 – They go into a store in groups.

2 – One group distracts the employees

3 – Other group will steal the merchandise; they may put the merchandise in the shopping carts and push those out the door.

The merchandise they steal is then sold to flea markets, sold online on auction sites like eBay, try to bring it back to the store for cash or smuggle it into Mexico.

According to Montgomery, consumers don't ask any questions when the bargains are offered in these venues. He said if consumers notice a "can't miss" deal, it's possible the goods are stolen.

The scam is quite lucrative. Robert Peterson, who is the investigations team leaders for Arizona and New Mexico Target stores, said some folks are making at least $250,000 a year.

One thief talked with a Maricopa County probation officer about how much she made each month just about shoplifting ($10,000); even while just getting one-fifth of the stolen merchandise price.

These thieves are extremely brash, coming back to the same stores time and again. Store employees, according to the court records, knew who was stealing but unable to catch them stealing. And, for those who were caught stealing, mainly women, their accomplices would run and target other malls.

Several gang members have been through the court system and convicted of organized retail theft and fraud as well as assisting in a criminal syndicate. Sentences have been up to five years behind bars. Other members are still awaiting trial.

The premise behind AZORCA and the website is to reduce the length of crime sprees.

Peterson said Tucson Target security officers tried stopping a thief from taking a cart full of merchandise out the front door. However, he backed off after the thief claimed to have a weapon and the company lost $1,200 in merchandise.

Photos and video of the thief were posted on the site and Peterson said within an hour Tucson Home Depot security workers had called to inform them who he was due to their own run-in with the suspect.

Arizona Retailers Association Executive Director Michelle Ahlmer said the website is an important tool to arresting and prosecuting suspects. She said it significant helps to decrease the amount of the organized crime taking place.

If you have been charged with a theft crime, Contact the Law Offices of Joshua S. Davidson, PLC today.