A recent crime bust in Texas is perhaps the biggest indication yet of the rampant nationwide problem that organized retail crime (ORC) has posed retail businesses in recent years. An Illinois man was convicted of running a roughly $20 million retail crime ring, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.
After four days of trial, a federal jury found Artur Gilowski, 48, of Barrington, Ill., guilty of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The defendant was detained immediately after the verdict was read.
Gilowski’s co-conspirators stole “tens of thousands” of products valued at over $20 million from brick-and-mortar retail stores across the U.S., according to a statement from the Attorney’s Office. The culprits then shipped the items to Gilowski, who sold the stolen goods on various e-commerce websites, generating more than $11 million in profits.
The thieves traveled across the country in vehicles registered under false names and used “booster skirts” (garments with concealment pouches for stolen goods) and electronic transmitters designed to disrupt retailers’ anti-theft and loss prevention measures.
Using aliases, they rented storage lockers where they kept the stolen items until they could be shipped to interstate and foreign customers via the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx.
Gilowski created a network of various online seller profiles, multiple bank accounts and multiple companies registered in other people’s names to conduct the online sale scheme and funnel the proceeds of his operation to himself.
“Mr. Gilowski and his co-conspirators swiped thousands of products from retail shelves, then resold stolen goods online,” said U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham in a statement. “We are proud to hold these defendants accountable for their crimes, and are grateful to the jury for their careful consideration of our case.”
According to the Attorney’s Office, Gilowski received more than $1 million dollars in cash from his crime ring—including $97,000 that was found in the center console of Mr. Gilowski’s truck—which led one of his co-conspirators to testify at the trial that Gilowski “treated money like trash.”
“Organized retail crime leads to consumers having to pay higher prices for goods, fewer job openings, and a decrease in consumer spending on legitimate goods that small-business owners and other retailers depend on for survival,” said acting special agent in charge Christopher Miller, Homeland Security Investigations Dallas. “Working alongside the U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Arlington Heights (Illinois) Police Department, we were able to secure today’s conviction, and take another step in our ongoing fight against organized retail crime so consumers and retailers don’t have to bear the brunt of those impacts.”
Seven of Gilowski’s co-conspirators pleaded guilty prior to trial. Gilowski now faces up to 25 years in federal prison. He is set for sentencing on Aug. 2.
The Arlington Heights police said the conviction is the culmination of a nearly five-year effort undertaken by the department, working in conjunction with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Regional Organized Crime Unit, Downers Grove Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
The resale of stolen goods online—the practice which netted Gilowski his profits—has been a talking point of many experts that feel this is central to the rise of ORC incidents nationwide. As online shopping demands increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, the incentive to steal goods and sell them via a marketplace became more obvious. Sellers of stolen goods wouldn’t have to deal with the potential hassle of a background check or the possibility that a store owner could identify the items as stolen and report the perpetrators to law enforcement.
To combat retail theft, retailers have historically used items like alarm tags and anti-resale tags, put GPS trackers in some products and locked up items to make it harder to buy them in bulk, but today’s multi-channel environment has made it necessary for loss prevention professionals to adapt their tactics.
“You need the resources and the technology to be able to manage through some of those cases and do a lot of the work that quite frankly, years ago, law enforcement used to do,” said Tony Sheppard, director of loss prevention solutions at ThinkLP, on the National Retail Federation podcast Retail Gets Real. That includes investing in vehicle surveillance and enhanced technology to help track stolen goods.
Sheppard also indicated that reducing and preventing ORC also includes education, particularly in ensuring it is understood at the law enforcement and federal level that ORC is not a petty crime.
“We as an industry need to make sure we are classifying it as organized retail crime…the onus is on the retailer to continue to educate,” Sheppard said. “You have to define the difference to get that these are professional thieves…typically they’re involved in other criminal activity too.”
Federal lawmakers have taken action to try and curb this problem by putting forth new legislation. The Integrity, Notification and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act, or INFORM Consumers Act, would modernize consumer protection laws and require online marketplaces to collect and verify basic business information from sellers before they are permitted to sell online. The bill has yet to be put to a vote in the Senate.
Woman arrested for $37,500 in Gucci, Carters merch
The Gilowski ring may take up much of the spotlight for the retail crime problem, but it’s clear that scattered incidents by repeat offenders are becoming more commonplace.
One woman currently in custody is accused of shoplifting more than $37,500 in goods from two Nashville retailers and faces multiple theft charges. Angela Simpson, 26, of Nashville, was arrested by Metro Nashville Police for two separate instances of theft from Gucci at the Mall at Green Hills and two additional Carters on Sawyer Brown Road.
Simpson conducted the four heists with an unidentified female accomplice, the police said.
In the first burglary, Simpson and the accomplice walked into the Gucci store on Feb. 22, grabbed three purses worth approximately $10,900 and simply walked out.
On March 18, Simpson and her friend entered Carter’s earlier that day, filled several bags with merchandise and left the store without paying. The total value of these items was approximately $2,000.
That night, alongside the same accomplice, Simpson returned to the Gucci store and swiped 11 purses before leaving. These items totaled approximately $21,580 in value.
The same two women were seen at the Carter’s store again on March 30, where they filled bags with merchandise before exiting. The items were worth approximately $3,000.
Through hours of surveillance footage, detectives were able to confirm Simpson’s identity and discover and her husband’s address in Hermitage, Tenn.
Simpson has a lengthy criminal history of merchandise theft, police said.
DSW robbery ends with vehicle crash, one suspect arrested
In another incident in Pasadena, Md. on Sunday, two shoplifters crashed a stolen car after robbing a local DSW store, according to a statement from the Baltimore City Police Department. Wilbert Martin, 33, of Baltimore, was arrested and taken into custody. Officers searched the area but were unable to locate the second suspect.
Responding officers observed the two suspects leaving the area in a gray BMW and were last seen traveling westbound on MD Route 100, where officers lost sight of the vehicle. A short time later, officers were dispatched to a crash on Quarterfield Road near Thelma Avenue and discovered the suspect vehicle was involved. Both suspects fled on foot from the scene of the crash.
Merchandise stolen from the DSW store was located inside the vehicle, but the police did not indicate how much in value was recovered.