Utah AG’s office asks for help finding suspects in elaborate retail theft ring
Sep 14, 2023, 11:32 PM | Updated: Sep 15, 2023, 6:27 am
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Attorney General’s Office is asking for the public’s help to bust an organized crime ring across the Wasatch Front. The group is stealing thousands of dollars of merchandise from stores, in a crime that ultimately trickles down to shoppers.
Sitting in his office, special agent Steve Jensen pours over hours of surveillance. The videos come from different retail stores across Utah.
In one video, Jensen pointed out a man in a bright green shirt casually walking out of a store with a cart loaded to the brim with small brown boxes that he didn’t pay for.
“We see here this guy walks out with a bunch of circuit breakers from one of our local retailers,” Jensen said, narrating what’s shown in the video.
The man appears to know what he’s doing and has probably done this before, Jensen explained, with how calm he stays and how smoothly he steals all the products.
It’s Jensen’s job to find shoplifting cases like that one and piece them together, seeing if the suspects look the same and tracking what they steal from multiple stores across the span of months.
Looking at an elaborate timeline he made, Jensen explained the work that went into taking down a recent complex retail theft ring.
“This was an incident where we were able to show that entire organization, from start to finish — when the item is stolen, when it is then moved, and then finally to the final sale,” he said.
Jensen is on the Utah Attorney General’s Office Crimes Against Statewide Economy Strike Force, which appropriately goes by CASE. And in each case, he said they’ll arrest several people involved in these organized crime rings. He shared pictures of busts they made, recovering thousands of dollars worth of stolen merchandise.
“A lot of times it happens to be retailers as far as clothing, apparel, shoes, something that they can try to make a quick dollar on,” he said. “And it’s an easy crime to commit in their eyes.”
There’s one case Jensen is hoping the public can help crack, and the CASE Strike Force is sharing surveillance photos in hopes that Utahns will recognize the people involved.
He pulled the photos up on his computer.
“This particular group that we’re looking at has been to at least a half dozen stores, and we suspect more,” he said, looking at the photos.
The Strike Force believes the same man is walking into stores like Burlington with different women, then walking out with a shopping cartload of merchandise. They’ve done this in Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties.
“They’re targeting more athletic wear, men’s or women’s clothing and shoes,” Jensen said. “And then they would turn around, most likely, and sell this stuff for profit. And unfortunately, many of our clothing retailers up along the Wasatch Front have become victim to this.”
And while the dollar amount stolen so far adds up to about $5,000, Jensen explained that the impact goes much further on an economic level, manifesting in different ways.
According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in one year, thieves stole just under $475 million in goods from Utah businesses.
But the impact of that retail crime actually cost those businesses nearly $1.3 billion. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce lists lost product costs, higher insurance costs, increased price of goods and unrealized wages as part of the cost.
The chamber also estimates that in one year, retail crime causes about a $91 million loss in tax revenue.
Jensen said this kind of crime trickles down to shoppers.
“We want to select something, and it’s locked up, or we go to the register and the price is a little bit higher than we expected,” he said. “Eventually those things will circle back and affect you and I.”
That’s why he wants to know if anyone recognizes the people in the surveillance photos they released. The sooner he can take down this latest organized retail theft ring, the better for businesses, consumers and Utah’s economy.
“It is important to stop this because this affects a lot of people,” he said. “It affects our community, and it’s becoming a problem for us.”