CHICAGO — Who knew Walgreens has its own group of organized-crime fighters?
The Northbrook-based corporation Organized Retail Crime Department, along with organized-crime investigators from Chicago Police, busted an "extensive" theft ring that had stolen thousands of dollars in plastic materials from more than a dozen companies and the United States Postal Service, police said in a statement.
The plastic items (mostly totes, pallets, trays and other things used to move merchandise around) were traced to a warehouse at 1435 W. Exchange Ave., in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. There, they were "reduced to very small plastic pieces with the use of heavy machinery" then sold and shipped to China, police said.
"It is likely that tons of stolen plastic has already been shipped," the police statement said.
The owner of that building cooperated with the investigation, police said, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen plastic — belonging to major corporations like Walgreens, Pepsico, Jewel-Osco, Turano Baking Company, Aunt Millie's Bakeries and CVS Pharmacy, in addition to USPS — were recovered and are being returned to their original owners.
The investigation was prompted when Walgreens noticed a spike in thefts throughout its Midwest facilities, including Chicago. Tens of thousands of dollars of its plastic totes had been stolen, according to police.
"Property theft is a serious issue that all retailers face and it is something we investigate aggressively. This investigation is a great example of how through the Cook County Regional Organized Crime Task Force companies can work with the Chicago Police Department and other law enforcement agencies to address issues that affect the entire community. We thank the police officers and retail investigators that worked diligently together on this investigation," said Jerry Biggs, Director of Organized Retail Crime at Walgreens.
Omar Castaneda, 45, and another Omar Castaneda, 24, both of the 3500 block of West 62nd Street in Chicago Lawn, were charged with one misdemeanor count of theft for $500-$10,000, according to police.
Eduardo Centeno, 34, of the 1900 block of West 51st Street in Back of the Yards, was hit with the same charge.
All three are expected to appear in court July 7.
Chicago's Department of Public Health, Department of Buildings and Fire Department also assisted in the investigation, which is ongoing, police said.
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