Organized retail theft: Criminals target many stores in region

Matt Parbs, vice president of community and economic development for Grow Clinton

“It isn’t just shoplifting, and it is more than professional shoplifting.” 

That was the theme of a recent seminar that Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf, County Attorney Investigator Tom Bohle, and I attended in Des Moines for an Organized Retail Theft Conference. The seminar was hosted by Hy-Vee and featured security teams from Kohl’s, Home Depot, WalMart, Casey’s and more.

What is meant by “it is not just shoplifting?” When you think of shoplifting, you probably think of a kid stealing candy, someone stealing some clothes, or even smash and grabs. While this is an issue, the recent conference focused on how organized criminals use stolen goods as part of their wider criminal enterprise.

Let us break it down for you. An organized gang will come into a town and attack stores to steal mass quantities of common items. They can steal thousands of dollars of goods in one hit and hit multiple stores in a town. These items are then sold on Marketplace, flea markets, or even Amazon. They will travel through multiple states.

The organized criminals also bring in credit card fraud, drug dealing, and various other crimes to create a web. For example, they might come to a town and deliver drugs or stolen goods. They will pay a drug user $200 to go and buy prepaid credit cards with stolen credit cards. Knowing that $200 will go back into the drug trade. Or if that person is busted, it doesn’t bring down the ring.

Every year, Iowans lose an average of $500 per person to organized retail theft. In addition, it results in higher prices for consumers, lost tax revenue, closed businesses, and then unsafe goods on the underground market. Nationwide, grocery stores lose over $100 billion in product to organized retail theft.

In response, the legislature gave the Clinton County Attorney’s Office a new tool to address this trend of organized retail theft with a specific law with teeth aimed at organized retail thieves.

We want to get the word out among retailers what we may bring to bear to prevent and punish this crime.

This is not just a Clinton issue, but it does impact our local stores. They can be rural locations hit for their lack of staff, dollar stores, pharmacies, box stores, electronics and more.

What do we plan to do about it? At Grow Clinton, we love roundtables. And guess what, so does the county attorney’s office. The first step is to work with Mr. Bohle, who will serve as a liaison to create roundtables to discuss strategies and communication. 

Every case filed with the attorney’s office has been prosecuted. One issue is that sometimes it’s the low person on the totem pole and/or we haven’t been able to link a theft at one of our stores with a wider conspiracy.

There are also prosecution strategies that will be discussed. At the state level, our corporate partners will continue their conferences and create a consortium to tackle the issues. We will participate in that.

This is a serious issue facing our members and communities, and our goal is to keep the safety of our workers and citizens at the forefront. Knowledge is power, and we ask that you update your mental image of shoplifting. It will help us tackle this issue when the public sees our plan to combat organized retail theft as part of public safety. The result will be savings for you, the citizen, through lower prices and more tax revenue. 


Matt Parbs is the vice president of community and economic development for Grow Clinton. He can be reached at [email protected].


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