CHICAGO — Police have arrested more than 100 people in connection with an organized retail theft ring that targeted stores on Michigan Avenue, State Street and several suburban malls.
In a widespread sting dubbed Operation Whoville, law enforcement officers from 14 area agencies arrested and charged 108 people for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in clothing, electronic products, jewelry and even baby formula. They also recovered cash and firearms.
The crime ring is involved in a "fencing" operation, authorities said, in which individuals purchase stolen goods from so-called "boosters," then resell them for profit. Fencing operations are known to finance other criminal activities, according to a press release from the Cook County state's attorney's office.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said the months-long investigation was timed to prevent as much organized retail theft as possible during the holidays. Six Chicago-area malls were targeted by the alleged thieves: North Riverside, Old Orchard, Orland Square, Woodfield, Gurnee Mills and the Aurora Outlet Malls.
“Large scale retail theft and fencing has become so rampant and so sophisticated that the average holiday shopper may not even realize it is happening around them,” Alvarez said. “This crime is increasing and it is important that we take action to stem the tide because it is individual consumers who suffer the most when they are forced to pay higher prices because of significant losses due to theft.”
The arrests, which were made over the last month, helped police bust a fraud ring at area Target stores earlier this month, in which people were allegedly re-encoding Target Gift cards and using them to buy electronics. Authorities recovered 85 iPads - valued at over $50,000 - as well as $10,000 in cash, numerous iTunes gift cards and a handgun.
The state's attorney's office was unable to release the names of those charged, nor could they identify which Chicago stores were targeted by the alleged thieves.