Since the COVID-19 pandemic, crime has precipitously skyrocketed in cities across the country, as demonstrated by a recent report published by Our America. One crime in particular, retail theft, has destroyed businesses across the country, hurting consumers and businesses alike.
While shoplifting is nothing new, there is more than meets the eye with this recent trend. Progressive prosecutors who refuse to prosecute retail theft are enabling Mexican drug cartels, international money launderers, and other highly sophisticated criminal enterprises.
Leftwing reformers hold out the late surge in shoplifting as a non-problem and have refused to prosecute – or even denounce – smash-and-grabs and other brazen thefts. This policy choice, championed by prosecutors aligned with George Soros, fails to appreciate the serious role organized retail theft plays in transnational crime.
It’s a grave mistake to wave organized retail crimes away as a problem of corporate balance sheets. Much like a hub and spoke, organized retail crime is linked to the most heinous transnational criminal organizations. Investigators and industry experts are finding that these Mission Impossible style crimes are a gateway to the world’s worst criminals.
Organized retail theft is sophisticated, high-volume shoplifting that involves two basic players. “Boosters” steal products in bulk from major retailers. Boosters target high-value goods such as medication, beauty products, or power tools. “Fences” acquire stolen goods at a fraction of their retail value, then sell them at a profit.
Online marketplaces, such as eBay or Facebook Marketplace, are a common vector for redistribution of stolen goods. But sophisticated fences often present as wholesalers and sell pilfered products in bulk, sometimes even to the company from which they were stolen in the first place.
Organized retail crime supports the world’s most dangerous criminal networks. The Homeland Security Department’s ‘Operation King of Thieves’ is a case in point.
The operation targeted two closely associated retail theft rings working in Texas and neighboring states, according to a third-party report. The ring leaders, two Palestinian brothers named Yasser Ouwad and Bilal Awad, paid coyotes to smuggle boosters into the U.S. Most coyotes are agents of the drug cartels who dominate the U.S.-Mexico frontier. Boosters were made to steal for the brothers until their coyote-fee “debt” was repaid.
The rings targeted chain pharmacies and stole expensive but easily concealed products such as shaving razors and diabetic test kits. Boosters cleared shelves at as 30 stores per day across multiple states, packing products into aluminum-lined bags that defeat store alarm systems. Some thefts were more brazen, with boosters pushing shopping carts full of stolen merchandise out to a waiting car, a sight that’s become depressingly familiar.
Ring leaders hid stolen products in storage facilities before shipping them to a New England wholesaler who sold the goods back to major retailers. Authorities estimate that the brothers moved $8 million in stolen goods before they were caught.
King of Thieves investigators identified a wealthy Houston-area businessman, Mohamed Mokbel, as a fence working with the brothers. Mokbel has since been indicted in a $150 million healthcare fraud scam that targeted senior citizens.
Retail theft rings do not brush up against transnational crime by coincidence. Shoplifting sprees are a low-risk, high reward proposition for crime lords accustomed to darker trades. Stolen products also facilitate money-laundering. One advanced money-cleaning technique, called trade-based money laundering, moves value through trade transactions to disguise illicit cash.
The Associated of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMLS) describes one such scheme in this way: syndicates in the U.S. steal or fraudulently obtain cellphones from a major retailer. Thousands of phones are stockpiled, then sold to a Chinese “money broker.” This transaction is often executed via shell companies. The money broker, a free agent who facilitates money laundering, sells the phones in a different country. The proceeds from that sale are then used in any number of cash-cleaning operations for any number of unsavory characters.
These are not pesky shoplifting rings. They are international criminal enterprises integrated with elder fraud, money laundering, and traffickers in drugs and people. At the risk of stating the obvious – not all, or even most shoplifters are international criminal masterminds. But when rogue prosecutors abdicate their responsibility to enforce the law, they create the conditions in which genuinely dangerous syndicates thrive.
New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and the Baltimore-D.C. metro area lead the nation in reported organized retail crimes by volume, according to the Coalition of Law Enforcement And Retail (CLEAR). Soros prosecutors lead LA, Philly, and Chicago. And one of Gotham’s five DAs, the infamous Alvin Bragg, was elected with Soros money.
Soros prosecutors hold themselves out as upright people with big minds and bigger hearts. But their refusal to take shoplifting seriously is a boon for the worst criminals on Earth.
Mr. Blackwell is the former mayor of Cincinnati and undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.