Police: Drugs, greed drive local black market for stolen goods

Flea markets an ‘easy avenue’ to unload stolen merchandise

Heroin addiction and greed are being blamed for fueling the local black market for stolen goods, including everything from heartburn medication to laundry detergent.

A father and son, Charles and Randall Cantrell, of Fairborn, were convicted this week of receiving stolen property for selling Tide Pods at Traders World Flea Market in Monroe. Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said the Cantrells believed they were buying the laundry detergent, which sells for $4 for 14 units, that was stolen from a local Kroger.

Early last year, Kroger contacted the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to report a significant rise in thefts, said Fornshell, who added a sting operation led to the arrest of the Cantrells.

“They let it be known they were in the market for consumer products,” Fornshell said. Armed with merchandise given to them by Kroger, the sheriff ’s office sent undercover officers to Traders World to act as though they had health and beauty products and household products, specifically Tide Pods, for sale at a greatly reduced price.

The undercover officers made it clear to the Cantrells the items were stolen by using terminology such as “been taken off the truck before they reached the store” and “truck load of hot (expletive),” Fornshell said

The Cantrells agreed to purchase merchandise on four occasions from the undercover officers, Fornshell said.

The sale of stolen items has increased at flea markets and on the Internet, officials said. Thieves are hard to catch and they move from one flea market to another, officials said.

Lt. Brian Curlis from the police department in Monroe, where two flea markets are located just off Interstate 75, said the businesses are "easy avenues" to quickly unload stolen merchandise.

Representatives from Traders World and Treasure Aisles didn’t return calls Thursday.

Also, Curlis said, he’s seeing an increase in the sale of stolen merchandise on the Internet and in retail parking lots. He said eBay sellers have listed new merchandise for less than the wholesale price.

“You know that can’t be right,” Curlis said.

He said thieves also are getting bolder. He has heard reports that some shoppers at the Cincinnati Premium Outlets in Monroe have been asked in the parking lot if they’re interested in shoes and clothing and what size they wear. If interested, they’re told to wait in the parking lot, and the item will be available for 50 percent of the marked price.

“They’ll get you whatever you want,” Curlis said of the shoplifters. “When you have zero overhead, you can make great deals.”

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said flea markets and the Internet are places to “unload” stolen property and those items are “very difficult to trace.”

He said consumers should be hesitant of any deal that’s too good to be true.

“If someone is selling something at half of what it’s worth,” he said. “Something has to be wrong.”

Patty Leesemann, public affairs manager for Kroger in the Cincinnati/Dayton Division, said the store’s goal is to keep prices low and products available, but organized retail theft can drive up prices on popular products and lead store shelves to be bare.

“We should all care about shoplifting,” she said. “It’s wrong and not only hurts retailers and consumers – but it also affects the communities where we live and work. Money spent by retailers and police on combating theft as well as the actual money lost from theft costs billions of dollars.”

A new study being released from National Retail Federation, found that retailers lose billions of dollars to shoplifting, employee and vendor theft and administrative error – collectively known as inventory shrink. According to the National Retail Federation/University of Florida National Retail Security Survey, retailers say inventory shrink averaged 1.38 percent of retail sales, or $44 billion.

Specifically, retailers surveyed estimate that shoplifting accounted for the largest part of reported shrink – 38 percent, followed by employee/internal theft (34.5 percent), administrative and paperwork errors (16.5 percent), vendor fraud or error (6.8 percent) and unknown loss (6.1 percent).

“Retail loss prevention professionals have one of the hardest jobs in the industry – protecting their customers, employees and merchandise from the threat of harm and fraud, and the results of this survey prove the enormity of their task,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Retailers will continue to review best practices and work to better educate decision makers in Washington about the burdens these crimes place on consumers, retail companies, their employees and the economy.”

Two years ago, an undercover police task force, born in Middletown, busted a more than $1 million shoplifting ring that targeted discount retail stores along the Interstate 75 corridor such as Walmart, Meijer, CVS and Family Dollar.

Fifty-seven men and women were arrested on 116 theft and other assorted felony and misdemeanor charges after a six-week investigation by police departments in Middletown, Troy, Urbana, Moraine, West Chester Twp., Colerain Twp. and Miamisburg and sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices in Warren, Clinton and Fayette counties.

Authorities found evidence that bands of shoplifters — called “boosters” — stole everything from mascara to plasma televisions from local retailers for resale at area flea markets, pawn shops and on the Internet.

Police said they executed 16 search warrants and seized 24 vehicles and approximately $300,000 in stolen merchandise, including about $250,000 from vendors at the Caesar Creek Flea Market in Wilmington. Stolen items ranged from toiletries such as shampoo, body spray, detergent and cologne to high-end electronics, DVDs, computer games and vacuum cleaners.

The thieves most often victimized Walmart stores in Middletown and Franklin, but police said the shoplifting operation spanned across four counties and 13 cities, townships and villages.

Fornshell said his office handles perhaps more cases of organized operations than others because two busy flea markets are located in Warren County.

“But people have been stealing from each other since the beginning of time,” Fornshell said.

Years ago, much of the consumer products theft was internal. An employee would push a box of merchandise out the back door and someone would come along with a truck later and pick it up.

“Stores have gotten pretty savvy to that. They watch the back door,” Fornshell said. Now entire trucks are targets as well as shoplifters trying to get goods to trade for cash or heroin.

“People have told us they were given lists, Prilosec (a heartburn medication) is on the list and Tide Pods,” Fornshell said. They come in, clear a shelf and push the merchandise out the door.

“They go for small, compact items with a high price that are easy to take,” he said, adding the drug user and shoplifter typically receives pennies on the dollar so the items can be sold at a reduced price at a flea market or the Internet.