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Tucsonan busted in $3 million shoplifting racket

Vernell Anderson was a professional shoplifter, police say.

By Becky Pallack
ARIZONA DAILY STAR

A 49-year-old woman who Tucson police say masterminded a professional shoplifting racket responsible for more than $3 million in retail thefts the past five years has been arrested, officials said Thursday.

Vernell Anderson and her friends would stuff high-end women's clothes and accessories into bags, roll them up in their waistbands and tuck them into girdles that had been specially modified to be used as pockets, police said.

Then, on her own, Anderson would resell the clothes to local thrift stores for about 5 percent of the retail value.

She told police she did it simply because she needed the money, said Lt. John Stamatopoulos, of the Tucson Police Department. It was her full-time job, he added.

Department stores and resale stores wouldn't comment on the case. Some cited policies of not discussing police matters. No one was available for comment at the Arizona Retailers Association in Mesa.

Anderson is in the Pima County jail charged with four counts of aggravated shoplifting, four counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated shoplifting, trafficking in stolen property and theft. If convicted, she could face 19 years in prison.

She declined comment.

Police said they finally caught Anderson on Wednesday, using officers from the major theft offenders unit, a new division at the Police Department that began working in February to combat property crime. Before that, most professional criminals "worked" under the radar, police said.

Police want people to know "we're doing a better job at reducing property crime and if we catch you doing this, this is what you could be facing too," Stamatopoulos said.

Detective William Briamonte, who was moved to the property crime unit from a special investigations intelligence detail, said his team tracked Anderson for a couple of weeks after receiving tips and analyzing trends and hot spots in shoplifting. She hit major department stores across the city and used a wide array of resale stores too, he said.

Investigators caught her shoplifting three times Wednesday before they arrested her at Kohl's Department Store, 5850 W. Arizona Pavillions Drive, in Marana, police said.

She had stuffed clothes into a "booster bag," a large shoulder bag used by professional shoplifters, Briamonte said.

Police also arrested Anderson's friend, Cecilia Victoria Wilson, 55, who they said had hidden rolled-up clothes in one of the modified girdles.

Wilson is charged with four counts of aggravated shoplifting and four counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated shoplifting. She faces up to eight years in prison.

During the investigation, police found $55,000 worth of women's clothes at Anderson's house and at some of the resale stores, Briamonte said.

Anderson would set out in the morning, steal clothes from department stores and add them to big garbage sacks kept in her car and house, he said.

Once a bag was full, she would find a secondhand store to buy it from her, he said. The clothes in each bag were worth $3,000 to $4,000.

A week ago, detectives sorted through eight lawn-size trash bags full of women's clothes with designer labels. The clothes in the bags were worth $30,000 altogether.

To avoid being caught, Anderson stole at different times of the week and used different stores for taking and selling clothes, Briamonte said. Police were able to detect some patterns that helped bust her by analyzing reports from thrift stores and watching for trends.

Police say they still aren't sure how many cases of shoplifting she's connected to. But they said there is little evidence to link her to other crimes.

"It was pretty simple the way she did it," Briamonte said. "It's the volume that's shocking."

Tucson's top 30 repeat shoplifters were arrested 251 times last year and spent "minimal" time in jail, Stamatopoulos said. They also committed more serious crimes, such as burglarizing houses and stealing cars, he said.

"We are targeting the repeat offender who's victimizing Tucson, and putting them away," Stamatopoulos said.

Cutting the number of larcenies may be the most effective way to put a dent in Tucson's property crime rate, which is higher than the national average, he said.

Tucson police took reports of 3,565 shoplifting crimes from January through April 14, 2004, according to the data police use to map crimes, which was obtained by the Arizona Daily Star.

The number of reports to date this year is down slightly, by about 7 percent. That's the first drop in the time period examined since at least 1999, records show. In that year, there were about 2,330 shoplifting reports.

There were 3,292 shoplifting cases reported from January through April 14 this year. Of those, 790 cases, or roughly a quarter, were solved or cleared by police.

Of course, most shoplifting incidents aren't major cases for police. But they add up and keep Tucson's property crime rate well above the national average.

About a third of the 46,000 property crimes reported in Tucson each year are shoplifting cases. Half of those occur at convenience stores, and most involve theft of a single item.

If police could wipe out those seemingly minor thefts, such as beer skips, the overall property crime rate would sink by nearly 14 percent.

Besides going after repeat offenders, police are considering a pilot program that could put beer in locked cases at convenience stores that have been targeted by thieves.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at 629-9412 or at bpallack@azstarnet.com.


Wal-Mart to educate young people about shoplifting consequences

16th April 2005 - World’s largest Wal-Mart Stores Inc has announced a new educational program geared to teach young people about the consequences of shoplifting. Recent statistics say that more than half of adult shoplifters started as juveniles. The "LP Youth Outreach Program" was created to help dissuade young people from shoplifting.

"As we strive to be a responsible retailer, we feel compelled to educate children about shoplifting. With the outreach program, we hope that prevention begins with education, "said J. P. Suarez, Senior Vice President of Loss Prevention for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. "We also want children to understand that shoplifting has potential consequences that can last a lifetime."

LP Youth Outreach Program partners local law enforcement with a member of Wal-Mart’s Loss Prevention team to inform children about shoplifting. Age-appropriate presentations have been developed for elementary, middle school and high school children. The presentations examine the reasons why people shoplift, the procedures in place to protect property and the cost of shoplifting not only to the shoplifter, but the entire community.

More information on the LP Youth Outreach Program is located on Wal-Mart’s website at www.walmartfoundation.org under the education section. Contact information for any school interested in hosting an outreach program is available.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc operates Wal-Mart Stores, Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets and SAM'S CLUB locations in the United States. Internationally, the company operates in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Korea and the United Kingdom. More information about can be found by visiting www.walmartfacts.com.

Wal-Mart stores Inc.


Police Briefs

Police charge woman with shoplifting

BRADENTON - Apr. 16, 2005 - Police arrested a 19-year-old woman on a charge of shoplifting after she tried to walk out of Wal-Mart with dental floss and Barbie dolls.

A Wal-Mart employee saw Lunice Tresalus of Bradenton walking out the side door of the store on Cortez Road early Wednesday morning with merchandise and asked her if she had a receipt, according to a Bradenton Police investigation report.

The employee found out that Tresalus did not pay for the items, which included dental floss, dolls and glow stars, the report stated. The items were returned to the store and Tresalus was taken to the Manatee County jail.

 

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