UPDATED Friday, June 25, 11:44 a.m.
Today my crime story is about how easy money really isn’t, drug money never leads to good things and it’s not nice to steal.
Early Thursday morning, nearly two dozen detectives headed into downtown Los Angeles with a dual purpose: to make an arrest and check out a warehouse.
The arrest would be of the mastermind behind an operation that encouraged theft from retail stores in exchange for a quick buck, then re-selling said stolen goods at swap meets and to Mom and Pop stores that don’t have time to check their suppliers’ backgrounds.
The warehouse was XYZ Distributors in Vernon, where the fenced goods were processed for resale.
Sgt. Jim Anderson of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Detective Bureau led the team that traveled to Vernon Police Department, where they met teams of loss prevention staff from retailers Vons and Target, while another team headed to a garment district location to make the arrest.
Once the arrest was made, Anderson and his group swept in and surprised the business owner and 15 other workers, including the office manager. UPDATE: Anderson said that after their investigation on Thursday, the business owner was arrested and faces felony charges of receiving stolen property.
"He does dabble in some legitimate trade, but his ability to operate at all is based on this illegal activity," he concluded.
As they opened the roll-up doors of the 55,000 square-foot warehouse, Anderson said he and the other investigators felt they’d cracked one of the biggest cases in their retail careers. It was stacked floor-to-ceiling with millions of dollars worth of merchandise. UPDATE: The estimated value of the goods discovered in the warehouse is $4 million.
“We had a booster crew that was arrested a couple of months ago (in Santa Clarita), and we were able to track that booster crew to a fence that was in Los Angeles,” he said. “After a two-month investigation, we found product from that fence in Los Angeles being delivered to XYZ Distributors.”
Anderson said that all of the product may not be stolen, but that a good portion of it could be tainted with drug money.
“We found Gillette razors, all sizes of batteries, over-the-counter medicines, diapers, everything,” Anderson said. “We know that the product that we sold to the fence was illegal and we found that product here and we believe that a lot of that other product is stolen as well. Any kind of operation like this where we find they are eagerly receiving stolen property, they may have legitimate means of getting some of their property, but obviously the money they bought that with came from illegal gains as well.”
What he thought would be a one-day operation had quickly become at least a two-day quest.
“Mixed in with the products that we know are stolen are possible legitimate purchases and we’re trying to decipher that now,” he said.
He estimated that the detectives were looking at processing 50 truckloads of palletted merchandise after it was scanned by the workers from Vons and Target.
“They’re doing the bar coding to see where this merchandise came from,” he explained. We’ll be here tomorrow and we’re staying overnight.”
While the detectives were examining the goods, a couple of cars pulled in to the property, one a brand-new Lexus and the other a white cargo van. Both drivers were detained at the scene for questioning.
Anderson said that the case was the biggest they’d cracked, something the retail investigators echoed. Anderson also gave credit to an umbrella group, LA-ORCA, or Los Angeles Organized Retail Crime Association, which involves detectives from the Sheriff’s Department, LAPD and several other Southern California law enforcement agencies and retail organizations.
Once they bring the merchandise back to sort through it, Anderson said their work would get a little more intense.
“We’ll work the chain of command. We have the flow level distributor, we have this business. Then we’ll work it up the chain, it’s gotta go somewhere,” he said. “We believe it’s probably going out of California as well as up to Northern California.
“This case is the biggest, it’s number one for us as well as the teams from Vons and Target who do this on a regular basis.”
Anderson added that detectives discovered tags from CVS, Walgreens, Target, Vons and Albertsons, along with several anti-theft sensors that had been removed from merchandise.