Traveling Gangs Target Malls

Oak Brook, IL - Oct. 26, 2007
Police this week arrested a woman who shoplifted more than $17,000 worth of merchandise, some from Oakbrook Center, and connected her to a retail theft ring traveling the country hitting malls.
Urrutia Carolina, 28, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was charged with felony retail theft and possession of stolen merchandise.
“They’re very good at it,” said Oak Brook Police Sgt. Tami Shuey, standing beside a table with the merchandise police found in a rental van after arresting the woman Tuesday night.
The store manager at Victoria’s Secret in Oakbrook Center, Route 83 and 22nd Street, called police after watching the woman leave the store with dozens of bras in a shopping bag without paying for them.
“Two people had just come in and cleaned out a shelving unit basically, a store cabinet thing,” Shuey said. “They filled up their bag, exited the store and while they were leaving they dropped a bra.”
Police said Carolina, like many sophisticated shoplifters, used a well-known device to get past the electronic detectors in the store.
Aided by Oakbrook Center security, police found Carolina hiding between cars in the parking lot, and eventually found her van with duffle bags full of merchandise. The bras stolen from Victoria’s Secret sold for $50 apiece or more.
A male helping Carolina got away, fleeing on foot, police said.
“We had documentation that within the last couple of days they have shipped out hundreds of pounds of merchandise through different avenues to different states,” Shuey said.
Oak Brook Police Chief Tom Sheahan said an intelligence unit he formed earlier this year with other police agencies alerted his department Tuesday the gang was in the area.
“It’s as organized as organized crime because it is organized crime,” Sheahan said. “They stay in hotels in the area at night, and then they go out and steal all day.”
Oak Brook Police Detective Tom Russell said such gangs hit one shopping center a day.
“They’ll stay at one mall one day and go to another mall the next day,” Russell said. “They’ve gotten away with it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep doing it.”
Sheahan said police are working with Limited Brands, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and other retailers to keep track of the gangs.
Shuey said the arrest this week is part of a gang of six individuals who keep returning to Oak Brook. Shuey said the van they found had a U.S. atlas with towns circled with malls in every state. Shuey said Illinois had 18 mall towns circled.
Oak Brook tactical officer Bob Christopherson said the couple hit only three stores Tuesday, and he said not all of the retailers had in-store security.
“They’ve been trained to call police when they see someone doing something suspicious,” Christopherson said. “They’re getting better at calling right away. The training worked well, I guess.”
Shuey added Carolina bonded out after posting a $75,000 bond.

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