A monthlong undercover sting operation during the holiday shopping season has resulted in the arrest of 108 individuals involved in large scale retail theft rings throughout Chicago and the suburbs, authorities said Friday.
Cook County state's attorney officials announced that the arrests were made at Woodfield Mall, Gurnee Mills, the Aurora Outlet Malls, as well the North Riverside, Old Orchard and Orland Square malls and shops on Michigan Avenue and State Street in Chicago.
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The investigation, dubbed "Operation Whoville," targeted so-called fencing operations coordinated by shoplifters who work in groups to steal products from retailers, according to a news release.
The shoplifters, known as "boosters," then sell the items to "fences," who in turn resell the items and reap untaxed profits, authorities said.
Some of the stolen items include clothing, electronic products, jewelry, over-the-counter medicines and baby formula. Authorities also recovered drugs and guns during the investigation.
Investigators said theft crews usually designate a time and location for the thefts.
"Large-scale retail theft and fencing has become so rampant and so sophisticated that the average holiday shopper may not even realize it is happening around them," State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a statement. "This crime is increasing and it is important that we take action to stem the tide because it is individual consumers who suffer the most when they are forced to pay higher prices because of significant losses due to theft."
In one case, authorities say suspects were "re-encoding" gift cards from Target with stolen credit card numbers, then using the cards to buy electronics. Authorities recovered 85 iPads valued at over $50,000, iTunes gift cards, $10,000 in cash, a handgun and equipment used to re-encode gift cards.
The investigation was coordinated by the state's attorney's Regional Organized Crime Task Force, which includes a partnership of area police departments and retailers.