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Smash-And-Grab Retail Thefts Are Organized Crime, California Attorney General Says


The rash of smash-and-grab robberies in Northern California and other places is the work of organized crime, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said this week, alleging the thieves are using social media and other tech not only to facilitate the robberies, but also to hock the goods.

“The coordinated criminal activity we’ve seen in retail stores and online through the resale of stolen goods isn’t shoplifting or petty crime, it’s organized crime,” Bonta said in a statement.

Bonta hosted a meeting Tuesday with representatives of retailers, online platforms and law enforcement to discuss the problem. Amazon, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, CVS, Home Depot and other retailers participated.

The smash-and-grabs are just the beginning, Bonta said, as criminal groups resell the goods in online marketplaces and use the proceeds to fund other activities, including human trafficking. Some of the high-profile robberies have involved high-end retailers, but thieves also target more ordinary big-box stores.

Earlier this month, a group involved in selling about $8M worth of goods stolen from Bay Area retailers was sentenced after members pleaded guilty to various charges, including conspiracy to commit organized retail theft, receiving stolen property and money laundering. The lead defendant, Danny Louis Drago, will serve a six-year sentence in state prison.

The thieves hit such retailers as CVS, Target and Walgreens. Their arrests followed a joint investigation by the California Department of Justice’s White Collar Investigation Team, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office’s Crime Suppression Unit and other agencies.

In a recent survey, the National Retail Federation found that the average dollar loss per robbery went up from $828.94 in 2019 to $7,594.48 in 2020. More than two-thirds of the respondents said that the pandemic increased risks for them as retailers, with an increased risk from organized retail crime cited by 57%.