Boosters, fencers, and cleaners: Inside cartels’ newest criminal enterprise of organized retail theft

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A nationwide retail theft epidemic cost the United States close to $100 billion in 2021. Stores are being forced to raise prices or shut up shop, insurers are refusing to help, and smaller mom and pop stores are being left behind. In this series, Mayhem on Main Street, the Washington Examiner will investigate the causes behind the scourge of shoplifting, the role of the cartels, the cost to stores big and small, and the complicity of lax prosecutors. Part 2 investigates the role of the cartels. To read Part 1, click here.

Mexican cartels are behind the spike in organized retail crime and are deeply entrenched in every level of the process, according to the federal government’s chief investigative agency.

Retailers nationwide sustained nearly $100 billion worth of losses in 2021, the highest year on record, according to the National Retail Federation report published in September 2022. The growing number of cartel-run theft rings around the country drove that figure up from $70 billion in 2019.

“Organized retail crime is leading to more brazen and more violent attacks in retail stores throughout the country. Many of the criminal rings orchestrating these thefts are also involved in other serious criminal activity such as human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, weapon trafficking, and more,” said Steve Francis, acting executive associate director for Homeland Security Investigations, in a statement. HSI is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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