MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (AP) -- Police say an undercover task force has been busting up organized shoplifters who targeted discount retail stores across western Ohio from the Cincinnati area to north of Dayton.
The Middletown Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1dyfLGN ) that police departments from Colerain Township to Troy and Urbana north of Dayton have worked together for weeks on the case. Authorities say 57 people have been arrested this summer on theft and related charges and that more than $300,000 in stolen merchandise has been seized. Much of it was from flea market vendors.
Authorities say well-organized teams worked together to steal everything from body spray to high-end electronics from retailers. Investigators say the merchandise was stolen for illicit sales at flea markets, pawn shops and over the Internet.
The 13-agency task force started last spring with five Middletown police forces and expanded across four counties and 13 communities. Of those arrested, 32 were from Middletown.
Police say thieves worked in groups of three to eight people, with some distracting the cashier and other store personnel while others stole items they already had buyers lined up for.
"These people are not your average shoplifter," said Tom Lawson, a Middletown police officer. "This all they do."
Task force supervisor Sgt. Steve Ream of Middletown police say many of those involved in the thefts made their living that way.
Besides selling the merchandise, the shoplifters sometimes would return it to stores and can get gift cards, police said. Then they would sell the gift cards.
Authorities say the shoplifters often hit stores along Interstate 75.