SJ Police uncover shoplifting ring

June 5, 2008 6:56:35 PM PDT
San Jose police and federal agents say they've broken up a nationally organized fencing ring that bought and sold stolen merchandise, in a two year sting operation.

Investigators went after a ring of thieves accused of re-selling over-the-counter medications and cosmetics ripped off from drug stores.

The operation was based in San Jose, but the stolen goods were shipped nationwide.

This was a huge operation that turned shoplifting into a multi-million dollar business.

Shoplifters would go into stores and stuff merchandise in their clothes. In some cases, they got away with goods worth thousands of dollars.

San Jose police showed ABC7 News examples of the goods stolen by the basket full at grocery stores and discount retailers.

The products ranged from pain relievers, to cosmetics to baby formula.

Thieves would hit stores like the Safeway at Branham Lane and Snell, then sell them to two San Jose crime rings.

One operation disguised itself as a tool dealer. It is a large warehouse filled with the stolen goods.

Razor blades and acetone would be used to remove store price tags. The merchandise would be re-sold at half the usual retail price.

These were not small operations.

"Six semi-trucks of stolen property were recovered with an approximate value of $5.5 million, and approximately one full semi-truck of stolen tools was also located," said Chief Rob Davis from the San Jose Police Department.

Federal agencies got into the act as the San Jose police investigation widened. The IRS was able to track over $17 million in bank accounts, but that's not all.

"IRS seized cash, gold bars, loose diamonds, jewelry and Rolex watches during the execution of the search warrants yesterday," said IRS Acting Special Agent-In-Charge Shannon Hodges.

Thirty-nine-year-old Truc Quoc le of San Jose headed up one operation and 58-year-old Jules Minh Son Vo of San Jose was the leader of the other operation.

They are two of 17 people arrested.

Undercover San Jose police officers infiltrated the groups during the two-year long investigation. "Booster" refers to the store thieves.

"We would follow the boosters on multiple occasions, find out where they were giving the property over. Once we got everything we needed out of that group, we would catch them in the act, and we'd arrest them without ever revealing the magnitude of the investigation," said Lt. Keith Miller from the San Jose Police Department.

Safeway, Wal-Mart, Savemart, Target and Walgreen's were all victims of theft. Police said some of the stolen goods were re-sold on eBay and other websites.

"We actually thought it was localized here in the Bay Area, and we're finding out it actually spread not just along California but actually across the United States," said Safeway Loss Prevention Director Victor Woods.

eBay has not returned a call asking for comment about the stolen goods police said were for sale on its site.

Major operations like this impact all consumers. U.S. attorney joke Russoniello points out theft forces retailers to raise their prices.


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