Los Angeles: For the past several months, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes Division has worked with the Los Angeles Area Organized Retail Crimes Association (LAAORCA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and others to identify a large-scale, organized criminal enterprise operating within the Los Angeles region.
This group, known as the Hernandez Organization, controls a large-scale “fence” operation where they purchase and traffic stolen items from “booster” crews throughout the Los Angeles County area, targeting retail stores such as Target, Wal-Mart, Safeway/Vons, CVS, Ralphs, Albertsons.
Booster crews are teams of individuals who work in a coordinated effort to steal goods from grocery stores, markets, and pharmacies and then sell these items to a buyer, also known as the fence, at a fraction of their retail cost. The boosters often steal from several different stores a day, thus causing a large monetary loss to the retailers.
According to the National Retail Federation, organized retail theft accounted for tens of billions of dollars in loss in the United States last year. In fact, organized retail theft exceeds all other property crimes combined. By comparison Toys R Us has annual sales of $8 billion, and Amazon.Com has annual sales of $12 billion.
The Hernandez criminal enterprise is believed to be responsible for more than $6 million of stolen retail merchandise during just the past several months. The merchandise stolen includes infant baby formula, diapers, health and beauty products, hair care products and other over-the-counter medications.
One such method of operation by the enterprise was to advertise in local print media outlets. The advertisements stated they would buy all types of baby formula and listed several phone numbers to call. Major Crimes Division responded to the advertisements and introduced undercover personnel who met with Hernandez crime members.
During the meetings, several transactions were completed in which the members of the enterprise purchased thousands of dollars of what was believed to be stolen baby formula. During the course of the investigation, Major Crimes Division personnel identified several critical Hernandez members and locations where stolen merchandise was stored.
On August 17, 2010, Major Crimes Division personnel obtained arrest and search warrants for six persons and 15 locations associated with the enterprise. Additionally, four banking institutions will comply with the Los Angeles Superior Court search warrants to seize multiple accounts relating to these individuals. The accounts have shown hundreds of thousands of dollars of transactions during the past several months, representing the illegal activity of the Hernandez organization.
The members arrested are charged with various crimes that include grand theft, commercial burglary, receiving stolen property, conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.
The success and efforts of this investigation would not have been possible without the partnership between our private industry members such as the Los Angeles Area Organized Retail Crimes Association (LAAORCA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the prosecutorial agencies who work closely with us.
Anyone with additional information is encouraged to contact Detective Jeff Williams of Major Crimes Division-Criminal Investigation at 213-486-7280 or 213-486-7356. During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-LAPD-24-7. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477). Tipsters may also contact Crimestoppers by texting to phone number 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads) with a cell phone. All text messages should begin with the letters “LAPD.” Tipsters may also go to LAPDOnline.org, click on "webtips" and follow the prompts.