Arizona police make arrests in organized theft ring

Mar. 19--A sophisticated and prolific ring of thieves that struck retail stores across the Valley has been broken up, Chandler police said Tuesday.

Three people, including the woman police say is the leader, were arrested last week. One man is under investigation while a fifth suspect is still being sought.

The ring was responsible for more than 100 thefts of sports equipment, sports apparel and tools from several businesses, including Sports Authority, Sports Chalet, Golf Galaxy, Wal-Mart and Home Depot, Chandler police spokesman Detective Frank Mendoza said.

These retailers are located in Avondale, Chandler, Goodyear, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe.

Police said the estimated value of the stolen merchandise was $200,000, with most of the goods then being sold, through an intermediary, on the online auction house eBay.

Chandler detectives have recovered about $40,000 worth of goods, police said.

According to Mendoza, the suspects rented vehicles from a Phoenix company and then attached fictitious license plates to the real plates, as to throw off law enforcement. At the stores, a person would grab merchandise and run out to the getaway vehicle.

The suspects also used police scanners, portable two-way radios and several different types of bolt cutters to remove security devices from stolen merchandise. "It was well-organized," Mendoza said.

The woman authorities say is the leader of the ring, 29-yearold Michelle Stanton, was arrested March 11 in Phoenix. She was booked on suspicion of four counts of felony shoplifting, as well as drug possession.

Also arrested were: Jose Sausedo III, 24, on suspicion of theft, and Nicholas Kane, 28, on suspicion of felony shoplifting.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.