Updated: July 28, 2020 06:55 PM
Created: July 27, 2020 06:57 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Crime rings have operated in plain sight in Albuquerque for years, often targeting big box retailers. Previously, the crimes were treated as petty shoplifting offenses but now New Mexico’s top prosecutor is changing his approach, considering it organized crime.
“There’s an organized criminal activity element even in our backyard that we need to attack,” said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.
KOB 4 Investigates has previously highlighted the problem of serial shoplifters who rip of big box retail stores and sell the stolen goods, often online.
Attorney General Balderas said his office has launched a brand new unit to tackle retail organized crime.
“It’s a big deal. Albuquerque is one of the most dangerous, violent crime-ridden cities in the nation,” said Balderas. “This high level criminal activity was falling through the cracks… I’m convinced that criminals were working together in a very sophisticated way, but we were identifying them as petty shoplifting criminals and quite frankly, these are individuals that are draining our economy, they’re putting safety at risk for New Mexico families and consumers.”
Balderas points to one recent case which led to the indictment of three men: Aaron Sheridan for conspiracy and racketeering along with his pawn shop employees Paul Skersick and Fatu Ulale Jr.
Investigators describe the operation as a crime ring – funneling thousands of dollars in stolen goods through a now defunct pawn shop on Central Ave. It was an operation exposed by an undercover detective, dating back to 2018.
On several occasions, power tools provided to the undercover officer by Walmart and The Home Dept were sold to the pawn shop even though the merchandise still had the security tags on.
Sheridan and his two employees have a court date set for later this year.
“We recently charged three individuals just on this one ring but we have identified other rings of criminal activity that we are now investigating and preparing to prosecute,” said Attorney General Balderas.
A NATIONWIDE PROBLEM
Across the country, organized retail crime has become and even bigger and more expensive problem.
According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, almost 97% of all retailers say they’ve been victimized by retail crime. The report also shows a loss of $700,000 for every billion dollars in sales.
These types of crimes can also turn violent. In 2018, a shoplifter at an Albuquerque Walmart opened fire on a responding police officer.
“We’re really trying to crack down because we’ve seen that retail shops are being used as a tool for additional criminal activity,” said Attorney General Balderas, adding that his office is making this type of crime a priority while tackling it from both ends.
“For instance, now retail centers will allow our law enforcement to become undercover, better understand their operations, better understand where they’re being exploited,” said Balderas. “What we're finding is that sometimes they didn't realize one of their employees was organizing with another criminal element… we are now investigating using many more tools available to us because retail centers are partnering with us.”
One of those partners: The Home Depot.
“Organized retail crime is a growing problem for all retailers,” said Christina Cornell, a spokesperson for The Home Depot – which has been especially vocal in its effort to stop this type of organized crime.
“They still tend to use pawn shops or dirty pawn shops… but we’ve seen a rise, for sure, in the amount of use in online marketplaces,” said Cornell. “At Home Depot we're really trying to harden the target through a team of special investigators that specialize in retail crime, through the use of different technology in our stores and building really strong relationships with law enforcement.”
As for Attorney General Balderas, he’s confident these strong retail partnership will make a difference with Albuquerque’s crime crisis.
“Ultimately we are trying to make Albuquerque a safer place, and we’re also trying to reduce crime across the board,” said Balderas.
Copyright 2020 - KOB-TV LLC, A Hubbard Broadcasting Company