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A month-long undercover investigation targeting organized retail theft rings — whose African American members steal large amounts of merchandise from large malls across the Chicago area — has resulted in the arrests of more than 100 people.
The investigation, dubbed “Operation Whoville,” involved a series of separate covert sting operations at six Chicago-area malls, including Orland Square, according to a the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. Arrests also were made at North Riverside, Old Orchard, Woodfield, Gurnee Mills and the Aurora Outlet malls, and on Michigan Avenue and State Street in Chicago.
A total of 108 individuals were arrested over the last month and charged with theft of a wide variety of products including clothing, electronics, jewelry, medicines and baby formula, prosecutors said. Authorities also recovered drugs and guns from several suspects during the operation.
They said the sting targeted organized crews who steal products from retailers and sell the stolen goods to fencing operations that resell them for significant untaxed profits and also are known to finance other criminal activity. Investigators said the crews generally work in groups and designate a time and location for the thefts, targeting retail outlets for particular merchandise.
The monthlong operation was coordinated by the State’s Attorney’s Regional Organized Crime Task Force, a group of law enforcement and retailers formed to combat organized retail theft and fencing, authorities said. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said the operation was timed to prevent as much organized retail theft as possible during the holiday shopping season.
Thefts by boosting crews result in billions of dollars a year in losses that retailers pass on to consumers, according to Alvarez’s office. It’s estimated that the state of Illinois loses about $77 million a year in revenue as a result of shoplifting and organized retail theft.
The arrests also led authorities to identify others engaging in a litany of crimes, including credit card fraud and public aid fraud.