Thursday 11 April 2024

California Police Arrest 4, Recover $300,000 In Stolen Legos After Busting Retail Theft Ring

 The California Highway Patrol recovered around $300,000 in stolen Lego merchandise this week after busting a retail theft ring.

CHP officials served search warrants on Tuesday and arrested four people involved in the ring, who would steal Legos from Target and other retailers in Southern California and sell them to fences – people or groups that buy stolen products and resell them, NBC Los Angeles reported. Often these fences sell the stolen merchandise to legitimate businesses or online and at swap meets. Fences may not even know the products they purchased are stolen, the outlet noted.

Jeremy Johnson, 44, of Orange, California; Marta Hardt, 39, of Huntington Beach; Chung-Pei Yu, 47, of Studio City; and Shen Li, 35, of Brea, were arrested as part of the bust, ABC 7 reported. The four were booked on charges of theft and conspiracy.

CHP officers made the bust as part of a retail crime task force that has been working to reduce the increasing number of retail thefts in California.

Retailers who were the victims of this ring estimate their total losses somewhere around $300,000.

Photos of the bust show numerous Lego sets, ABC News reported.

Many Star Wars Lego sets, such as the Millennium Falcon, can retail for around $900, NBC reported, adding that photos it received of the bust showed dozens of that particular set and other rare Lego products.

Late last year, a top Home Depot executive testified before a congressional panel about the increasing threat of shoplifting. Scott Glenn, head of loss prevention at Home Depot, said the company had seen a “significant uptick” in situations where employees come into “violent contact with bad actors.”

In April 2023, a woman fatally shot a Home Depot security guard while stealing a phone charger. She fled the scene in a vehicle driven by her boyfriend while her two-year-old child was in the backseat. In 2022, an elderly Home Depot worker was killed after a shoplifter shoved him to the ground.


California, in particular, is struggling with retail theft, with some stores taking extreme measures to combat the crimes. Supermarket chain Safeway, for example, has installed exit gates at the self-checkout lanes in some of its San Francisco stores, while one Walgreens went so far as to put chains across its freezers.

California has become known for smash-and-grabs, where thieves enter a store, smash display cases to steal items, and leave quickly. At one Pasadena jewelry store, thieves made off with nearly $500,000 in merchandise in one incident.

Many attribute the increase in retail theft in California to a statewide ballot measure approved by voters almost ten years ago that reduced thefts of property valued under $950 from felonies to misdemeanors.

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