Sen. Schumer calls on feds to curtail organized retail theft

Town of Wallkill Police Chief Robert Hertman said that locally there was a 23% increase in the number of larceny arrests last year compared to the year before.

Jonathan Gordon

Apr 2, 2024, 11:09 PM

Updated 14 days ago


Videos posted on social media depicting people smashing their way through stores, merchandise locked behind closed cabinets and fewer self-checkout lines. You've certainly felt the increase in retail theft if you've been to any store recently.
According to the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan think tank, reported incidents of shoplifting were 16% higher during the first half of 2023 compared to the first half of 2019.
On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer addressed the growing issue at the Galleria at Crystal Run in the Town of Wallkill. Schumer called on the feds to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to target the heart of these organized rings.
"RICO went after the mob, RICO went after the mafia, and RICO could be a very effective tool in breaking these gangs," Schumer said.
Schumer believes federal investigators could do a better job of investigating these rings that cross state lines and bring harsher penalties against perpetrators.
The punishment for being convicted of shoplifting varies depending on criminal history and the value of goods stolen but is generally considered a misdemeanor.
"Rather than focusing on each individual crime, which we need to do of course, RICO enables a whole government response allowing the Department of Justice and New York prosecutors to dismantle these thefts," Schumer said.
Everyone is affected from small towns to the biggest cities. Local businesses to big box retailers.
Town of Wallkill Police Chief Robert Hertman said that locally there was a 23% increase in the number of larceny arrests last year compared to the year before.
"There are telltale signs to us that these are not the typical shoplifters we've seen in the past and the problem continues to grow and grow and grow," Hertman said.
Ashley Rago is the co-owner of Eternal Soles, a local streetwear and sneakers store with locations in Poughkeepsie and at the mall in Wallkill.
She said thieves stole roughly $2,500 worth of merchandise from her Poughkeepsie location during six shoplifting incidents in the last year.
"We want to be very community-oriented, so we want to put our faith and the trust in people unfortunately once it started happening, we were like, 'OK, maybe this is not a smart business decision,'" Rago said. "You can't really trust everybody. You don't really know everyone who comes through the door."
Her stores are all equipped with cameras and most of the clothes are now tethered to the rack with anti-theft cables. She's even considering tagging some of the items and installing security machines at the entrance to prevent future loss.
"We're not Walmart, we're not Kohl's, we can't afford to put $1 million a year into something like this, so we don't want to keep taking losses because we're not a corporation. I think at the end, if they can do it on the back end I think it would make a big difference," Rago said.
Rago agreed with Schumer that the current penalties are not enough to deter people from repeatedly stealing from stores.
"I think it's so abundant now because people know that it's a slap on the wrist," Rago said.
Last week, New York State Police charged a 35-year-old man with grand larceny for allegedly stealing $33,000 in cellphones from the Walmart in Middletown. A week before that, state police made three arrests in Poughkeepsie during a targeted enforcement of organized retail theft in the area.
"[It] jeopardizes our safety, jeopardizes our economy, and ends up hurting these stores and ends up hurting the people who shop there," Schumer said.

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