The San Jose police have busted a multi-million dollar shoplifting ring that was paying gangs of shoplifters to collect razor blades, Oil of Olay, Pepcid AC and other products that they would then repackage and sell all over the US — and in some cases the products ended up being sold right back to the chains from which they were shoplifted.
From the San Jose Mercury News:
The giant fencing organizations came tumbling down Wednesday when a joint task force arrested 17 people, including 11 in San Jose, on charges of federal money laundering and interstate transportation of stolen goods. They confiscated six semi-trucks loaded with $5.5 million in stolen property and – along with pallets of Tylenol and Oil of Olay – seized $140,000 in cash, gold bars, Mercedeses and diamonds.
The investigation was titled “Operation Norcal Shortdate,” referring to Northern California and the slang for a product about to expire. Officials said the busts had brought down major local players in the $30 billion black market in stolen retail merchandise.
“This wasn’t where they were ripping off product and selling it from the back of a truck on some street corner, these were very organized operations,” said San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis.
Aside from driving up the cost of goods for consumers, these bandits sold products which may have become unsafe by improper storage.
The hordes of “booster” thieves are not directly related to the crime organizations. They are independent bandits who hit store after store on a routine basis, stealing a variety of products from Safeway, Target, Walgreen’s, Longs Drugs and Savemart. They might stealthily stuff handfuls of Claritin into their clothes or boldly make off with shopping carts full of items without paying.
They would contact the Vo and Le organizations to “fence” the merchandise, receiving 25 cents on the dollar. The families were not cooperating but acted as “friendly competitors,” according to officers John Barg and Doug Gerbrandt, the lead case agents.
“We were impressed with their sophistication,” Barg said. “They treated this trade as if it were a real job and they worked pretty hard at it and at concealing what they were doing. They were smart, but not enough to outsmart us.”
The Vo organization worked their operation out of two San Jose storefronts – JV Tool and Wholesale on Senter Road and on Old Bayshore Highway.
On the surface the businesses were tool shops. But in the back, there were giant warehouses of locally stolen merchandise, repackaged and organized, ready to be shipped.
The organization would regularly ship out four to six pallets of stolen products a month to various locations in Utah, Florida and New York. Police estimated that each pallet is worth approximately $120,000 in retail value.