National theft ring uncovered after shoplifting arrests on Island

Three people arrested in Ontario are suspects in a nationwide theft operation, with ties to organized crime, that was uncovered after shoplifting incidents in Saanich and Sidney, and on the West Shore.

The local part of the investigation began July 3 with a report from the Shoppers Drug Mart on Jacklin Avenue in Langford that about $3,000 worth of high-end cosmetics had been stolen. Photographs from surveillance video showed two women believed to be involved.

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After releasing the photos to the media didn’t help in finding the suspects, the West Shore RCMP’s Crime Reduction Unit took over the file and soon realized that there had been two similar thefts at other local Shoppers Drug Marts.

Both involved the theft of over $4,000 worth of high-end cosmetics.

More video images were obtained, including one showing a male suspect.

“We were able to identify who that male was and trace that male to a residence back in Markham, Ont.,” said West Shore RCMP Const. Nancy Saggar. “So once our officers realized that crimes were being committed in our area by suspects that did not live here, we contacted the York Regional Police.

“When somebody lives somewhere else but they’re way across the country committing crime, you start to ask a lot more questions.”

Saggar said York officers picked up the investigation after being told that some suspects were likely headed back their way from B.C.

“What started off as relatively simple theft ended up uncovering a massive property-trafficking ring operation,” she said. “So this is organized crime that’s actually been taking place nationally, across Canada.

“York Regional Police was to uncover boxes and boxes of stolen items that were being shipped from all over Canada, including the West Shore, to a residence and several locations in Markham, Ont.”

About $250,000 worth of goods, destined for sale on the black market, was found.

So far, 13 people have been arrested, all of them from Markham or the town of Milton, about 60 kilometres away. The two women and the man seen in local surveillance images were all arrested in Markham.

Charges related to organized crime have been laid, along with trafficking in property obtained by crime.

“We’re just very happy that we were able to help solve this,” Saggar said.

She said that one indicator for West Shore officers that something out-of-the-ordinary was happening was the unusually high value of what was being shoplifted here.

“When you see property crime and shoplifting, you don’t generally see thousands of dollars, upwards of 3-4,000 dollars in particular items, being taken.”

Saggar said that it was learned through the case that high-end cosmetics specifically from Canada are sought after on the black market.

“That’s because of our high regulations and standards.”

Also stolen by the theft ring were such items as earphones, liquor and electronics.

“There’s no telling where an investigation like this can go,” Saggar said. “I think we’ve kind of hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to uncovering just how massive this was.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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