Central America

International Super-Heist Cost Retailers Billions Last Year

One woman in El Segundo stole $10,000 of clothes from a shop in about 20 minutes during the course of three visits

Retailers ready to launch their new fashion lines can bet some of that apparel will be stolen the minute it hits their shelves, according to private investigators.

The products are being shoplifted, in some cases, thousands of dollars at a time, by thieves committing organized retail crime.

A private investigator, speaking to NBC4 on the condition of anonymity, helped detectives with the El Segundo police department, tie two Colombian nationals to an international theft ring.

The two were arrested after police discovered $67,000 worth of stolen merchandise in their Hawthorne apartment.

Police found enough piles of jeans to fill a stockroom. Some of the brands that fell victim to the heist included Athleta, Lulu Lemon, Abercrombie and Fitch, Polo Ralph Lauren and Diesel, which are all high-end clothing lines.

Police say organized retail crime cost retailers across the country billions of dollars last year. One of the women involved in the massive heist was captured on surveillance video in El Segundo stealing $10,000 of clothes from an athletic wear shop.

In less than 20 minutes, she returns to the store three times. Each time, she is captured on surveillance video, returning to the same spot from where she stole the clothing with an empty bag to steal more.

"I've been here for 25 years and I have never seen a theft like this," said Lt. Carlos Mendoza from the El Segundo Police Department.

Private investigators work undercover for national retailers tracking these kinds of thieves. But this isn't a simple case of shoplifting. Police officials say the woman is part of a "super-sized" heist extending from El Segundo to to Central America.

The woman appears to go into the store already knowing what she is going to steal, according to El Segundo police. During the heist, she gets help from a man investigators call the "look out" and one called the "distractor," who is in charge of distracting the cashier.

The shopping bag, which police call the "booster bag," also helps the woman out. Detectives say the bag it is rigged with tin foil and allows stolen goods such as clothes to slip past security sensors.

The stolen clothes often shipped to South America, where they are sold for double the value, depending on the brand name and the demand for it.

"The consumers are the victims because we're paying higher prices for those stolen property," Mendoza said.

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