A holiday sting operation led to the arrest of more than a 100 "grinches" following a month-long undercover investigation, the Cook County State's Attorney announced today. According to authorities, thieves were targeting stores at Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, among others, and stealing mass amounts of designer clothing only to be sold at a reduced cost on the black market.
The investigation, dubbed "Operation Whoville," involved a series of separate covert undercover sting operations at six Chicago-area malls that included North Riverside, Orland Square, Woodfield, Gurnee Mills, Aurora Outlet Malls and Old Orchard, authorities said. Arrests were also made at stores on Michigan Avenue and State Street in Chicago.
Crews would operate in organized retail theft rings, who would steal mass amounts of clothing from retailers at great cost. They would then pass along those stolen goods to "fences" who would then resell them throughout various counties and neighboring states.
In Skokie, for example, more than $4,000 of True Religion jeans - or 19 pairs - were stolen from Bloomingdales in Old Orchard Mall on Feb. 17. The suspects simply grabbed the clothing and ran out the store, police said. In April, a teen made off with several designer jeans valued at $1,080 also from Bloomindales and made his escape via bicycle. There was also an instance in September of 2011 when a woman stole $600 worth of lace panties from Victoria's Secrets in Old Orchard Mall.
“Large scale retail theft and fencing has become so rampant and so sophisticated that the average holiday shopper may not even realize it is happening around them,” said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez. “This crime is increasing and it is important that we take action to stem the tide because it is individual consumers who suffer the most when they are forced to pay higher prices because of significant losses due to theft.”
A total of 108 individuals were arrested over the last month and charged with theft on a wide variety of products including clothing, electronic products and jewelry as well as the large-scale theft of over-the-counter medicines and baby formula from big box retail outlets.
Yet the 108 arrests weren't made single handedly. The Cook County State's Attorney said police departments from Skokie, Niles, Schaumburg, Barrington, Auroa, Gurnee were just a few that provided support during the operation. Retailers also stepped up and provided aid.
Authorities have pegged the shoplifters as "boosters," or people who work together to steal a specific product. Once the culprits have stolen the item(s), the products are then taken to fences. According to the Cook County State's Attorney, thefts by boosting crews result in losses of excess of a billion dollars. That cost is typically passed on to the consumer, authorities said. In terms of lost sales tax revenue, experts believe booster rings cost the state $77 million each year.