Tweet The retail fraud operation busted up by Wal-Mart security and Blackman-Leoni detectives is an example of the new, organized crime rings targeting stores.
Retail fraud is no longer sticking an item in a coat and walking out of the store without paying. Perhaps as many as eight people, including a former cashier, conspired to use coupon fraud and price switching to bilk Wal-Mart, 1700 W. Michigan Ave., of what detectives suspect will top $100,000 in merchandise.
"These scams are getting more and more intricate," said Blackman-Leoni Detective Sgt. Chris Boulter. "There are organized groups that perpetrate fraud against retailers."
Blackman-Leoni public safety officers searched two homes Monday and found the items. A 24-year-old man, who had been employed by Wal-Mart but was fired due to his alleged involved in the fraud, was arrested. He remains in jail and has not yet been arraigned, according to court and jail records.
As many as seven other people could be charged, Boulter said.
Detectives estimated the merchandise seized Monday totaled $30,000. Tens of thousands more could have already been sold on the black market, Boulter said. The investigation started at the beginning of February, but detectives and Wal-Mart security suspect the fraud has been going on since last fall.
Boulter believes the group bought in bulk and used many coupons to confuse cashiers. Members of the group would use coupons for different models or varieties than listed. Holding a brand-new, still in the box electric razor, Boulter explained that someone might use a coupon intended for a $200 model on a $50 model.
The intent to deceive the cashier makes the purchase fraudulent and criminal, Boulter said.
Members of the ring would visit the store three or four times a day, making off with hundreds of dollars in merchandise through fraudulent means. Wal-Mart staff alerted the Blackman-Leoni department to the suspected fraud, Boulter said. Security staff watched hours and hours of surveillance tape and brought detectives possible suspects.
Working with Detective Robert Shrock, those suspects were identified. The search warrants Monday were executed at the homes of two of the suspects.
At a house in the 200 block of Watts Street, officers found items stashed in boxes and tubs. At a house in the 200 block of Bender Street, officers found a make-shift store in the basement.
"It was set up on shelves like it was a store," Boulter said of the merchandise at the Bender Street home. "It appeared that people had access to the basement and could come in to shop."
Boulter said the recent haul of suspected stolen merchandise is one of the largest he has handled in his career, easily in the top five. There were hundreds, possibly thousands of items recovered. Most of them are personal care or hygiene products. Officers worked for hours Tuesday organizing and cataloging the items for evidence.
Other police agencies across the country have busted up rings suspected of defrauding retailers of thousands of dollars. Austin, Texas, police arrested earlier this month a woman suspected at the center of an eight-person ring that stole $50,000 worth of goods over the past year, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The woman said she would sell the items at flea markets or send them to Mexico. Similar rings have recently been busted in New York and Tennessee.