TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Paul A. Sarlo and John A. Girgenti that would expand current shoplifting laws by establishing penalties for “organized retail theft enterprises,” received unanimous approval today from the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee.
“These theft rings are responsible for taking $30 billion worth of merchandise nationwide,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic. “As it stands now, if a person is caught shoplifting, he or she is the only one that is able to be prosecuted. This measure would also allow law enforcement to prosecute the ringleaders, and enable police to bring down entire operations, not just one or two people.”
“Many goods that are stolen are not for personal use by organized criminals who intend to resell the items,” said Senator Girgenti, D-Bergen and Passaic. “There is a growing problem with organized retail theft rings. These theft rings recruit groups of shoplifters to steal lists of items to be stolen from retail stores. Currently, these thieves are treated as individual shoplifters and are handled leniently. Most cases are overlooking the organized crime connection behind the shoplifting sprees.
The Senators’ measure, S-273, would create the crime of “leader of an organized retail theft enterprise,” defined as a person who acts as an organizer engaging in any scheme to use others to transfer or sell stolen merchandise for profit. Leading a shoplifting organization would constitute a second degree crime, which is punishable by up to ten years in prison and fines of up to $150,000.
The bill would also expand New Jersey’s current shoplifting laws to include penalties for participation in organized shoplifting organizations. Stealing merchandise of $1,000 or more would constitute a second degree crime. Shoplifting merchandise valued at less than $1,000 would be classified as a third degree crime, which carries penalties of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $15,000. Currently, stealing merchandise valued at $1,000 constitutes a third degree crime. Under the bill, an “organized retail theft enterprise” is defined as two or more persons collaborating to transfer or sell stolen merchandise.
Often, these groups are able to collaborate to steal millions of dollars worth of merchandise by moving from community to community throughout different states. They operate by stealing small items like shaving cream, infant formula and over the counter medicines from supermarkets, drug stores, convenience stores and mass merchandisers, then selling the stolen merchandise at flea markets, on the Internet, and even back for the stores they were taken from.
The measure now awaits a vote by the full Senate.