Gresham police arrest 'organized' shoplifters
Nine people have been identified as connected to a shoplifting ring that stole more than $102,000 worth of products from Safeway and Fred Meyer stores, primarily around Gresham, the Gresham Police Department said.
Seven people were arrested and two others are wanted in connection with the ring, police said.
These highly organized shoplifting rings are becoming an increasing problem for stores. They steal from retailers in bulk and then sell the merchandise at substantial discounts, often using internet sales platforms such as OfferUp.
"Unfortunately, drugs are behind a lot of it," said Gresham Police Detective Brandon Crate.
The seven members of the group were arrested in February after a five-week investigation assisted by loss-prevention investigators from the retail outlets that suffered the thefts, Crate said.
Police arrested suspected ringleader Jenna Hollingshead, who is accused of 27 counts of theft. She has an extensive list of brushes with the law, including convictions for theft, drug charges and other crimes.
Other accused in the case included: Stephanie H. Mitchell, 17 counts of theft; Andrew J. Christie, 11 counts; Kristin Renee Eichler, 10 counts; Michael William Lewis, five counts; Richard Santos, seven counts, and Tyler Scott Tomlinson, 48 counts.
John Logan Irish, who faces seven counts, and Kristan Lee Partan, 4 counts, were identified by police as part of the group, but have not yet been arrested or charged, Crate said.
One OfferUp site, which is still online, advertises Tide Pods, Prilosec, Yankee Candles and other products in Gresham. The seller is identified as Hollingshead, and the photo of the seller on the site matches her booking photo.
The store investigators help the police and detectives by going online to the sales sites and going undercover to buy merchandise. The store investigators go through surveillance footage and deliver evidence to the police.
Crate said the buying trips are a way to determine if the merchandise for sale is being offered by extreme couponers or other legitimate sellers.
This organized shoplifting, called organized retail crime, or ORC, is a widespread problem across the U.S. Participants generally steal high-value items such as laundry detergent, razors and blades, teeth-whitening strips and nutritional supplements.
Some professional shoplifters use what is called a "booster bag," which is a purse lined with foil or a hot/cold bag. The foil lining keeps the anti theft scanners from going off in the store when the shoplifter leaves the store. Other thieves just fill carts with merchandise and leave without paying.
The National Retail Federation recently published a report that found, for the first time, every retail company reported it had been a victim of organized retail crime. In addition, 83 percent said that organized theft had increased in the past 12 months and those responding said the thieves are becoming more brazen and aggressive. The FBI estimates organized retail crime totals as much as $30 billion every year.
Retailers and law enforcement work together through a group called the Northwest Organized Retail Crime Alliance. The group comprises law enforcement in Oregon and Southwest Washington and several prosecuting attorneys.