This afternoon at the Frank Crowley courts building, Anthony Robinson, a chief investigator at the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, announced that 17 people have been indicted for allegedly taking part in a retail theft ring that stole an estimated $400,000 in goods. Police have arrested 14 people and expect more to be arrested soon.
"As we speak, investigators are out looking for these individuals," Robinson said.
The crimes were investigated by a partnership between the district attorney's Check/ID Theft Division and "investigators from the parent company of a national retail chain." What chain, you ask? Robinson didn't want to say, because the investigation is ongoing. But he was happy to tell everybody at the news conference exactly how the crimes were committed.
"It was a pretty good modus operandi, as we call it in law enforcement," he said. Basically, the crooks would shoplift from one store, taking off any theft-prevention tags in a dressing room. Then they would drive to a second location of the same store and return the items for a gift card. Then they'd sell the gift cards on Craigslist, eBay and by advertising them on their Facebook pages (which is both criminal and criminally irritating for their Facebook friends). The shoplifters always had getaway drivers waiting outside the first store, Robinson said, and police learned that when shoplifting occurred, "within 30 minutes they'd be at another store, exchanging the merchandise."
"We all know we're in a down economy," Robinson said. "... You think these are victimless crimes, but we as consumers pay in the end."
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Robinson called the criminals "very, very efficient," and said the investigation into their activities has been under way since July 2010, under the name Operation No Returns.
A reporter at the news conference asked what the "lesson" is to consumers.
"If you buy a gift card, buy it from a major retailer," Robinson replied. If you see it advertised on Facebook or something, "it's probably part of a criminal enterprise or a scam.
To sum up: Don't buy sketchy things your sketchy friends are selling on their Facebook pages. And definitely don't steal from a major retail chain by stealing from one location, having your getaway driver take you to a second location, exchanging the clothes for gift cards and selling those gift cards online. Everybody got that?