Crazy Multi-million Dollar Shoplifting Ring Busted In California

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.

San Jose police bust huge criminal retailing rings [SJMN]


Edit Your Comment

  1. MissTicklebritches says:

    What’s the proper plural for Mercedes? Mercedi?

  2. John Whorfin says:

    We had a case like this in locally in. Instead of a tool shop, it was a pawn shop paying crackheads to loot stores, until the feds busted it wide open. This is probably the tip of the iceberg.

  3. MrGrimes says:

    So I shouldnt be expecting that circular saw I bought from JV Tool in the mail anytime soon?

  4. Parapraxis says:

    Dammit, me and Trai_dep are out of business!!!


  5. cmcd14 says:

    Mercedi is classy, so I think they would agree.

  6. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    Reminds me of the products at the Roadium in Gardena, CA (Los Angeles) and pretty much every swap-meet/open-air market… Every little space you walk by, the sellers are selling the saaaame exact products. Some of them are still in the Rite Aid blue totes that come off the shipping trucks. I wouldn’t be surprised if 75% of the merchandise there was stolen.

  7. dragonfire81 says:

    And this is why loss prevention is such a joke at certain retailers.

  8. MaytagRepairman says:

    It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen local stores such as Sears so poorly staffed on Sunday afternoons that I suspected I could walk out with whatever I could carry and nobody would blink.

  9. termitehead says:

    Mercedeses? The plural is Mercedes right?

  10. onesong says:

    @termitehead: yes! as in “i have six mercedes in my garage because i’m nouveau riche and have poor taste.” lol “mercedeses”

  11. squablow says:

    Mercedes-Benzes sounds better, although Mercedeses is kinda fun to say. And Onesong, since when are Mercedeses in poor taste?

  12. Burgandy says:

    @MaytagRepairman: There would need to be a sears employee near in order to blink, so you are probably right.

  13. TCameron says:

    As others will say my favorite part is the “Mercedeses”

  14. Nytmare says:

    @John Whorfin: How is “a pawn shop paying crackheads to loot stores” different from the usual situation of crackheads selling stolen loot to pawn shops?

  15. iamlost26 says:

    $140,000 in Mercedes? That’s what, 3 cars?

  16. Rule Number 1: You don’t talk about fight club!

    (not that this exact thing happened but I wouldn’t put it past them)

  17. tli415 says:


    It’s just Mercedes’ with the apostrophe.

    Although “Mercedeses” is awesome.

  18. Gold bars? From what store did they shoplift gold bars?

  19. Adam Rock says:

    Maybe from here:

  20. ChuckECheese says:

    @squablow: How about “Mercedes-cars,” as in, “I have three Mercedes-cars.” Singular is Mercedes-car.

  21. gvonk says:


  22. Keavy_Rain says:


    I can see it now: A heavy-set man who smells like Taco Bell hamburger rounds up a group of crackheads, gives them lists, then shouts “Go forth, my minions! Bring me my ill-gotten gains!”

    Betcha he even has a slapping cane for the times they bring back the cheap rip-off PlayStations that play the Tiger LCD games or ROM’s instead of the legit ones.

  23. LosersHaveCreditCardDebt says:

    These crime cartels keep Ebay in business.

  24. meefer says:

    Mercedes-Benzes I would think

  25. Bruce_A says:

    @tli415: The plural of Mercedes is Mercedes. No apostrophes needed. Ever. That’s not what they’re for.

  26. @MissTicklebritches: Oh, oh! This is the most useless fact I know! It’s “Mercedeses” because “technological” plurals are formed with “s” or “es,” even if their source word would be formed in a non-standard way.

    So bugs have antennae but TVs have antennas; houses have mice but computer superstores have mouses.

    (But yeah, as a practical matter, most style guides would tell you to try to reformulate the sentence to avoid the plural if possible.)

  27. DePaulBlueDemon says:

    Why would a store purchase these products from anyone but the manufacturer/distribution center? That’s kind of scary, actually, because you have no idea what these people are actually doing to the products.

    Also, I know that Walgreens uses labels that read something like “Property of Walgreens, if you see this product at any other retailer please notify us” yada, yada.

  28. pantsonfire says:

    @gvonk: Is that a Mustard Plug reference? If so, I don’t get it.

    @everyone else: Has anyone here ever been to the huge swap meet in LA (I think it’s at the fairgrounds)? If I remember correctly it seemed like every third item for sale was obviously stolen. Even the food was stolen. We saw a stand selling peaches 4/$1 that were still in a safeway crate.