Task force to combat organized retail crime in Connecticut

Connecticut has formed a task force charged with combating the growing problem of organized robberies at brick-and-mortar retailers, Gov. Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong announced Wednesday.

The national issue involves smash-and-grab thefts in which large quantities of relatively inexpensive goods are stolen and then resold online. 

Tong said this is far more than run-of-the mill shoplifting and involves high-level criminal bosses sending crews out to rob the stores.

"What we're seeing is that it's possible for an organized crime ring, often across state lines, to steal large quantities of these everyday products and then, not just take them to a pawn shop or sell them off the back of a truck, but now they go online, to the major online platforms and they fence these products online," he said. 

The task force will investigate robberies in an attempt to identify the organizations behind them and prevent similar thefts.

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Tong cited a November robbery in Oxford, which was captured on a video that went viral, showing a group stealing $1,600 worth of items such as detergent and paper towels. Three arrests have been made in that case, and police have said all of those involved had participated in similar thefts across the state. 

According to a study for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, as much as $68.9 billion worth of products were stolen from retailers in 2019 or about 1.5% of total retail sales. Tong said in Connecticut, the problem is estimated to cost about 8,000 jobs and more than $169 million in lost tax revenue each year.

The Connecticut task force will include representatives from Tong's office, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, local law enforcement, consumer protection officials and officials from large retailers such as CVS.

Thomas Moriarty, general counsel for CVS, said his company has seen an over 300% increase in such thefts since the onset of the pandemic.

"This is a two-headed monster," Moriarty said. "It is the organized retail crime element of this, but it is also the online retailers and the ease with which these criminals can resell their stolen wares."

Lamont said he's working with governors in other states and also reaching out to online retailers such as Facebook Marketplace and eBay, asking them to do more to keep stolen goods off of their sites.

"No more selling anonymously, getting the tax ID number, finding the information we need to track down who is doing this, so we can deal with this on the supply side and and demand side," the governor said.

In a statement, eBay said it has no tolerance for criminal activity on its platform.

"We have programs and policies in place to monitor our marketplace for stolen items," the company said. "We also collaborate with government agencies and law enforcement to help prevent the sale of stolen goods on eBay."

A message seeking comment was left for officials at Facebook.