Boosting and fencing. To some this sounds like recreational activities or sport. In the loss prevention world, these terms are all too common in understanding the complex road stolen merchandise travels in the hands of criminals.
CVS/Caremark’s Tony Sheppard was joined by the Senior Assistant District Attorney in Fulton County, Atlanta Sharla Jackson and Kebharu Smith from the Department of Justice in Houston to give an in-depth look at building a case against organized retail criminals. And the groundwork, they said, is pivotal to ensuring there are no holes in your litigation and ensuring your case does not get dismissed by the court.
The key, Sheppard said, is knowing the types and severity of boosters who pilfer merchandise from stores. He classified the types of boosters on three levels:
Level 1: These individuals often act alone or in familiar areas. Stores that surround their neighborhoods or cities in which they live are typically prime targets.
Level 2: The boundaries are expanded for this level of criminal to cover more ground. They may still act alone but also could belong in loosely structured groups.
Level 3: These offenders are affiliated with the more notorious ORC rings and steal merchandise from multiple stores on a national scale.
But boosters are only the initial link in the ORC chain. Boosters serve as the resource for fences, which in turn are the third-party “sellers” of stolen goods. The panel emphasized that fences can come in many shapes, sizes and establishments.
- A free market booth or “bodega” can appear as an everyday, legitimate business. These fences could foster up to 10-20 visits a day.
- A fence may also live on a piece of purchased property. A residence or vacant lot serve as the clearinghouse for cleaning and repackaging stolen goods from boosters. For law enforcement, these areas are the most sought-after link in the ORC chain.
- A wholesaler moves the counterfeit merchandise back into commerce. Typically these items are mixed with legitimate merchandise, and more often than not, consumers are unaware that they are buying stolen items.
With these fundamentals in place, the prosecutors said, a strategy can now be designed to take down these rings. Retailers, and even their competitors, regularly join forces to provide merchandise for undercover agents and build cases against fences. The investigation and documentation of the roles of retailers and law enforcement is critical to how evidence holds up in court. And the biggest component of all: patience. Completing multiple transactions with fences is a great way to build dialogue with the suspects, while a hasty arrest could leave connections to other retailers and leave other facets of ORC rings in operation.