LP Managers Work to Shut Down a Major Shoplifting Operation in Oregon

Retailers say police ignored reports about theft scheme that involved local second-hand stores

The criminal ecosystem in which A-1 Cash existed wasn't complicated, according to court documents. Professional boosters went on shoplifting sprees across the West and brought the goods back to Portland's loosely regulated secondhand stores.

The shops, in turn, sold items at a fraction of the retail price on eBay or to wholesalers, who would sometimes sell the loot back to the retail chains.

Business was so good, Mason told the government informant, dubbed WH#1, that he kept his store open until 4 a.m. for thieves working in the city. "They'd go steal it and bring it straight here," Mason says in a court transcript of the conversation. "Pound on the door till I answered."

Before saying good night, the files show, Mason gave WH#1 some Safeway Rancher's Reserve steaks from his "meat supplier" --a shoplifter.

Malone had figured out the racket months before. Last fall, he handed the police what he considered a bulletproof case, leading right to the shoplifters and secondhand stores.

Malone said he called Portland police Detective William Carter, one of two officers in charge of monitoring the city's nearly 140 secondhand stores. But instead of launching an investigation, Carter asked whether Best Buy recorded serial numbers for each item of merchandise.

No, the manager said.

Malone recalled that the detective dismissed the evidence he had collected, saying there was no proof the merchandise in the secondhand stores was stolen.

During a second conversation, Malone said he told Carter he planned to start tagging high-risk merchandise with yellow Best Buy price labels, so they could be easily tracked to the secondhand stores.

"He would not accept that as proof" that it was stolen, Malone recalled.

Creating shopping lists

Malone wasn't the only one to figure out the problem.

For at least two years, Portland police knew that massive amounts of stolen goods were moving through the shops, yet the bureau had failed to cite a single merchant.

Internal police memos The Oregonian recently obtained show an East Precinct officer documented the problem in 2003 and outlined several possible solutions. Two months ago, a property crimes sergeant wrote a memo to Foxworth, complaining of a "cultural acceptance" by police of the secondhand shops, which had become a "sanctuary and safe haven" for criminals.

Neither of the reassigned police detectives has commented on the ongoing investigations.

On the day of the August FBI raid, Kwik Way Cash was packed with stolen items, ranging from laundry detergent to sealed boxes of new chain saws stacked floor to ceiling, police photos show.

Most boosters followed the same playbook to steal goods. Many would simply charge out of a store with a cart of items, ignoring the ringing electronic sensors at the door, knowing many retailers tell employees not to confront shoplifters for fear of violent encounters.

According to the federal affidavit, demand for stolen goods often reflected the season. KitchenAid mixers were hot at Christmas. In summer, Crest Whitestrips were in high demand. According to the affidavit, a Kwik Way Cash employee told a government informant that people want the Whitestrips in summer because they are "out more in the daylight hours talking to other people."

Vernon Walczak, owner of one of the city's three Cash on the Run stores, said he provided boosters with shopping lists. Walczak, now under indictment, said he once went online to show one of the boosters what he wanted. "She just sat there and she wrote everything down," he told the informant.

Walczak's lawyer declined to comment.

In the court transcript, one merchant boasted of making $500,000 in a year. And at River City Trading, owner Angela Ives, who has been indicted, recalled for an undercover wholesaler how another secondhand store owner made enough to buy "his Harley motorcycle, his motor home, his children (through his wife's in-vitro fertilization)," the affidavit says.

Ives' lawyer declined to comment.

At Curt's Cash Corner, employee Laurent, whose lawyer could not be reached for comment, said he had worked out how to hide cash from the feds, according to the affidavit.

"I'd bury it," Laurent said, "in the backyard or basement or something."