A month-long holiday undercover investigation targeting organized retail theft rings has resulted in the arrests of more than 100 people, authorities said Friday.
Those arrest are accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise from large malls and shopping centers across Cook County.
The investigation, dubbed "Operation Whoville," involved a series of separate covert undercover sting operations at six Chicago-area malls, including North Riverside, Old Orchard, Orland Square, Woodfield, Gurnee Mills and the Aurora Outlet Malls, a release from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said. Arrests were also made at shops on Michigan Avenue and State Street in Chicago.
A total of 108 individuals were arrested over the last month and charged with theft of a wide variety of products including clothing, electronics and jewelry, the release said. The accused also allegedly stole over-the-counter medicines and baby formula from big box retail outlets.
Authorities said they recovered narcotics and guns from several suspects during the operation.
The investigation targeted those who authorities believe steal products from retailers and then pass along the stolen goods to major "fencing" operations who resell them for significant untaxed profits.
Investigators said the crews generally work in groups and designate a time and location for the thefts, targeting retail outlets to shoplift particular merchandise.
The crime of organized retail theft involves groups of shoplifters, known as "boosters," who work together to steal specific items. These items are often then taken to individuals known as "fences," who buy stolen goods and then resell them.
These fencing operations are also known to finance other criminal activities.
Thefts by boosting crews result in billions of dollars a year in losses that retailers pass on to consumers, according to Alvarez’s office. It is estimated the state of Illinois loses $77 million dollars a year in revenue as a result of shoplifting and organized retail theft.