Organized theft ring caught in the act at Target

REDLANDS - Police believe they have made an arrest leading to the top of an organized theft ring.

On Friday, Redlands police received a call from the Target store at 27320 W. Lugonia Ave., reporting a theft in progress.

Officers set up a perimeter around the store while Target security officers gave them details about men they suspected of shoplifting.

According to a report released by police spokesman Carl Baker, police learned that San Bernardino resident Henry Llerena, 22, hid 14 video games inside other merchandise and put the merchandise on a shelf in the store. Llerena then left the store.

Police Chief Jim Bueermann and Lt. Rogelio Garcia were watching the store from the outside. Bueermann said he was in a vehicle not easily recognizable as a police car.

"The suspects had split up," Bueermann said. "They were conducting what's called counter-surveillance. They were looking to see if we were watching them."

Baker said a second man, San Bernardino resident Joseph Hernandez, 23, found the merchandise concealing the video games and left the store, paying for the merchandise and not the video games. Rodriquez was detained by police after he left the store.

Llerena tried to flee the scene on foot and was apprehended by Bueermann and Garcia.

Both Llerena and Rodriguez were arrested in suspicion of burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary. Officers also found items consistent with the sale of marijuana when they searched of Llerena's vehicle. Llerena was charged with possession of marijuana for sales.

Through the arrests of Llerena and Rodriguez, police were able to determine that video games and DVDs stolen throughout the Inland Empire had ended up in the possession of Daniel Herrera, a vendor at the San Bernardino Indoor Swap Meet on North Mount Vernon Avenue in San Bernardino.

According to Baker's report, police set up a controlled buy, in which Herrera believed he was purchasing stolen video games provided by Target investigators.

On Saturday, undercover officers observed the "stolen" video games on display in Herrera's shop at the swap meet. The undercover officers negotiated the purchase of four of the games.

Officers arrested Herrera and confiscated more than 1,000 new DVDs, video games, game systems and game system components, Baker said. The value of the confiscated items was over $35,000.

Redlands Sgt. Travis Martinez, who led the investigation, said his people are working on trying to figure out where the video game systems were stolen from by tracing their serial numbers. He said the video games do not have serial numbers, making them more difficult to trace.

"Organized retail theft has been picking up in the last few years," Martinez said. "It's something that's plagued us with all the new businesses coming to the city."

Herrera was charged with the attempted possession of stolen property. He was later transported to the county jail.

Bueermann said Martinez led the investigation, and without his work, the arrest could not have been made.

Target regional investigators Jim Sturgess, Theresa Infusion and Jake Harris helped in the probe.

"If we can put at one person out of business at least for a little while, it's a good thing," Martinez said.