A string of crimes hitting major luxury stores on the West Coast has law enforcement fighting to clamp down on the growing problem.
Investigators in Bellevue, Wash. recently made arrests in three separate retail crime cases as local police crack down on Seattle-area property crime across hot spots like shopping centers and the city’s downtown center.
In one case, four suspects are charged, three with working together to steal more than $93,000 in handbags from Louis Vuitton in Bellevue. The fourth was charged with selling the stolen bags.
The Bellevue Police Department (BPD) said the crew hit the same Louis Vuitton just days apart on June 19 and June 24. Detectives found the stolen bags for sale online, set up a buy, and arrested one of the suspects. The King County Prosecutor charged Billy Chambers, Memory Yearby and Earnetra Turner with two counts of first-degree organized retail theft. In addition, Trey Kendall was charged with first-degree trafficking in stolen property. All four have extensive criminal histories, according to charging documents.
Chambers, 29 years old, was previously arrested in 2008 as a minor for killing 53-year-old Edward McMichael, a popular street musician in Seattle known as the city’s “Tuba Man.” Chambers served three months in 2009 after being convicted of manslaughter in McMichael’s death.
Since then, Chambers has been convicted of five felonies and three non-felonies. He’s served more than a year in both jail and prison for those crimes.
“These suspects were aggressive and coordinated in their efforts and often physically confronted employees or security who stood in their way,” BPD captain Shelby Shearer said in a statement. “These crew also caused significant damage to the stores during the thefts, causing some businesses to close for the day to clean up the mess.”
In the second case, detectives arrested 24-year-old Janay Luckey for multiple thefts totaling nearly $13,000 from the Bellevue Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack in October and November 2021.
Luckey walked into the stores and cut off security tags before leaving with the merchandise without paying. She is also accused of selling these items online.
Luckey was charged with first-degree organized retail theft and two counts of first-degree trafficking of stolen property. Her criminal record stretches to Seattle, where she is charged with five counts of organized retail theft and trafficking out of the city, with those totals reaching more than $84,000.
The third retail crime ring the BPD is currently tracking down involves the theft of nearly $7,000 from an Ulta Beauty store. Two suspects are accused of stealing 62 bottles of perfume from the store, detectives said.
One of the suspects was arrested in Kent, Wash. and charges are pending against the other. The pair allegedly used a rental car in the theft. The merchandise was returned to Ulta.
Additional charges are possible in the three cases, the BPD says.
“We joined the state’s Organized Retail Task Force committed to cracking down on this crime,” Capt. Shearer said. “These cases involved regional collaboration and partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and the affected businesses. Arresting these suspects reduces crime not only in Bellevue but regionally.”
Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson created the statewide Organized Retail Crime Theft Task Force last month in response to the increase in theft.
The task force targets organized crime rings like the 13-member operation rounded up in Seattle in April, and is the tenth such state task force in the U.S. The team’s purpose is to improve coordination and collaboration among law enforcement agencies to address multi-jurisdictional crimes that can endanger retail employees and cause significant economic harm to the state.
Ferguson cited an analysis from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) estimating that retailers in Washington State alone lost $2.7 billion to organized retail crime in 2021.
After launching the task force, the Bellevue police ramped up its anti-crime patrol initiatives, specifically targeting traffic infractions such as driving under the influence and collision-causing violations. Additional anti-crime patrols will include apartment complexes and neighborhoods experiencing a high number of car and catalytic converter thefts and prowls.
“Like many areas, Bellevue is seeing a rise in property crime of about 22 percent, and we are committed to crime-fighting efforts to address these issues,” BPD Chief Wendell Shirley said. “We are approaching this with individual anti-crime plans for each sector of Bellevue. Our patrol captains work with their teams to run these operations, including targeted stings, high-visibility patrols and undercover work.”
Thieves crash car into Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus front door
Meanwhile, Beverly Hills, Calif. police are searching for multiple thieves who drove a car through the front door of a Neiman Marcus store on Saturday.
The burglary took place around 4:45 a.m. local time, according to the Beverly Hills Police Department. The suspects made off with an undisclosed amount of merchandise, potentially including handbags, police said. No description of the suspects was released.
Police responded within three minutes but the suspects had already fled the scene.
“It’s very disappointing and it’s very frightening… the fact that the police department arrived in three minutes and they were already gone, and had a getaway car planned, it just seems organized on a very high level,” Courtney Baillie said in an interview at local ABC news affiliate KABC-TV.
Retailers such as Neiman Marcus present a high-value target for “smash-and-grab” robberies. The department store previously was hit by criminals who stole $17,000 worth of goods in Chicago in February.
And this is far from the first incident targeting Beverly Hills stores. In March, Luxury Jewels of Beverly Hills had an estimated $3 million to $5 million in merchandise stolen after a break-in, according to the retailer’s owner. The high-end goods stolen included diamond-studded jewelry and necklaces as well as luxury watches from brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe.
Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stainbrook promised swift action, saying he’s confident the department will arrest those involved on the basis of evidence left at the scene.
“Due to our robust technology and the evidence left at scene, I am confident we will make arrests in this case,” Stainbrook said in a message on social media. “Crime of any kind will not be tolerated in Beverly Hills.”
The city has added more officers to the department and private security guards to patrol the streets. But with thieves continuing to strike, many in the city say more needs to be done.
“My thoughts are helplessness. How did we let the country get to this point where that’s normal?” said David Thomson, another KABC-TV interviewee. “That in a really safe neighborhood like this we have people driving cars into buildings to loot the place. It’s terrible. The city needs new leadership.”