Organized Retail Theft in Indiana
While the most media attention has been given to the brazen “flash mob thefts” that have taken place on both the east and west coasts, the state of Indiana has been no stranger to this type of crime. To combat organized retail theft in Indiana, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 343, which was signed into law by Gov. Holcomb in May of 2023. This new law allows for the State to charge a person who participates in an act of organized retail theft with a Level 6 felony offense. In addition, if certain enhancing circumstances apply, a person may be charged with Level 5 felony.
This post will examine the recent rise in organized retail crime, as well as break down the new law on organized retail theft in Indiana. However, if you have immediate concerns or are facing criminal charges related to this offense, it’s vital that you contact an experienced Indiana theft crime attorney as soon as possible. Under these new laws, a person could face felony charges, even if the total value of the merchandise doesn’t rise to the level of felony theft in Indiana.
The Rise of Organized Retail Theft in the United States
Organized retail theft is a type of criminal activity that occurs when a group of individuals coordinate with a larger criminal enterprise to steal large quantities of merchandise from retailers. From there, the merchandise is often resold on online auction sites, to other resale retailers, or directly to a middleman. Typically, these types of crimes are committed in a manner that exploits local theft laws, instructing each participant of the crime to steal no more than the dollar-amount threshold to be considered felony theft in that specific jurisdiction.
Despite an increase in recent activity, organized retail theft has been a lucrative criminal enterprise for many years. As far back as 2007, the FBI estimated organized retail theft to be a $30-$37 billion dollar a year crime problem. Major cases, around that time included a 2008 multi-agency investigation in Florida that resulted in unveiling of an 18-person crime ring responsible for the theft of up to $100 million dollars of medicine, health, and beauty goods. That same year, California law enforcement arrested 17 individuals associated with two criminal enterprises and recovered six semi-trucks of stolen property were recovered with an approximate value of $5.5 million dollars.
Over the next decade, reports of organized retail theft continued to rise. In 2013, police in Pennsylvania arrested a total of 110 suspects in connection to an organized retail crime ring. This criminal enterprise is believed to have been responsible for over 2,500 thefts at 92 retailers across six counties and two states, with the value of the stolen merchandise exceeding $750,000 in total. The ringleader of this enterprise was ultimately sentenced to 6.5-13 years in prison and ordered to fines totaling $55,000.
While organized retail crime certainly became more common throughout the aughts, it also became more sophisticated. In 2019, Florida law enforcement uncovered an elaborate bar-code switching scheme that impacted retailers all throughout the Southeast, including over 100 thefts in Florida alone. In this scheme, suspects printed fraudulent UPC barcodes on adhesive stickers and placed those fraudulent labels over the UPC barcodes of more expensive items. Ultimately, law enforcement believes this scheme cost Florida retailers over $150,000, not accounting for the losses in other targeted states.
By the start of the 2020s, retail crime had officially exploded. In 2020, Reuters reported that organized retail theft costed retailers an estimated $70 billion, and since then, has only “gotten exponentially worse.” More recently, in 2023, law enforcement has noticed an increase in the frequency and scale of such crimes. Just this past year, in Topanga, California, a group of 20-30 masked assailants raided a Nordstrom store, deployed pepper spray on security, and stole an estimated $60,000-$100,000 worth of merchandise. Then, just two weeks later in Pasedena, California, three assailants raided a jewelry store in a similar manner and walked out with over $500,000 worth of jewelry.
Curbing the Economic Impact of Organized Retail Crime
The economic impact of organized retail crime has devastated retailers, both big and small. In fact, the United States Chamber of Commerce estimates that organized retail crime is responsible for a staggering $125 billion dollars’ worth of economic losses and over $39 billion in lost wages, nationwide; and the effects of these losses are only just now beginning to come to head. For example, Target, the 7th largest retailer in the United States, plans to close nine stores across the county due to theft and organized retail crime in October 2023.
In an effort to curb the crippling impacts of this type of crime, 32 states have passed legislation specifically addressing organized retail theft. Some of these laws established specific task forces to combat the problem, while others, like Indiana, explicitly defined organized retail theft as its own unique crime.
On top of these new state laws, Congress recently passed the INFORM Consumers Act, which officially became law on June 27, 2023. Per the Federal Trade Commission, under this new law, “online marketplaces must have more information about who’s selling on their platform. Covered sellers must promptly comply with those requests for information or risk suspension. And consumers who buy from those sellers will have a place to report questionable activity.”
New Indiana Law on Organized Retail Theft
While Indiana only accounts for around 2.1% of total U.S. retail theft, the state has become a victim to organized retail crime. In September of 2023, two individuals, suspected of stealing thousands of dollars’ worth of tools from major retailers and trying to sell them on Facebook Marketplace, were charged with Level 6 felonies under the new Indiana law on organized retail theft.
The new law, which can be found in Indiana Code 35-43-4-2.2, states that “a person who exercises unauthorized control over the property of a retail merchant with the intent to directly or indirectly distribute the property for resale commits organized retail theft, a Level 6 felony.”
Furthermore, under the new law on organized retail theft in Indiana, a person can be charged with a Level 5 felony under certain circumstances. This can occur if the value of the property is at least $50,000 or if the property is a firearm. It may also occur if the person charged with the offense has a prior, unrelated conviction for organized retail theft, theft, or criminal conversion in Indiana.
As stated in subsection (d) of this law, when determining the value of the property under this section, acts of organized retail theft committed in a single episode of criminal conduct may be charged in a single count. This means that if a person is believed to have committed multiple acts of organized retail theft, they may be charged with more than multiple felony offenses.
Potential Penalties for Organized Retail Theft in Indiana
Under the Indiana sentencing guidelines, the potential penalties for a Level 6 felony are 6 months to 2.5 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. For a Level 5 felony, on the other hand, the potential penalties are 1-6 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Furthermore, anyone convicted of a felony offense would also have to carry with them the tremendous burden of a felony record, long after they’ve completed their sentence. In Indiana, a felony record could impact a variety of civil rights, like one’s ability to vote or own a firearm. It can also make it challenging for past offenders to find employment, secure housing, or obtain much needed loans. However, this may be remedied through expungement in Indiana, often with the assistance of an Indiana expungement attorney.
Charged with Organized Retail Theft in Indiana?
If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges related to organized retail theft in Indiana, do not hesitate to contact Indiana criminal defense lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP. Our Indianapolis law firm was founded by two former deputy prosecutors, Bradley Keffer and Tom Hirschauer III, who both have extensive experience handling theft-related criminal matters. In addition, they have a strong understanding of the local courts in Indianapolis, as well as those all around the state of Indiana. This means they can anticipate how the Court may view the case at hand, and the strategies the prosecution may deploy.