Eight people have been charged with felonies following an undercover investigation targeting organized retail crime, according to a news release Wednesday from the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office.
The investigation targeted “boosters,” shoplifters who steal merchandise and then sell it to third parties, including some Wichita markets and restaurants. Names of those businesses could not yet be released, District Attorney Marc Bennett said.
“I did not realize how many people steal that stuff on a large scale,” Bennett said Wednesday, “and that affects you and I when we go buy stuff.”
Agencies involved in the operation included the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, the Hutchinson Police Department, the Reno County attorney, the U.S. attorney’s office in Wichita, the Sedgwick County district attorney and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Three people have been arrested and charged, the news release said. They have entered pleas, and their cases have been resolved, Bennett said.
According to the news release:
• Keiu Thi “Linda” Pham was indicted by the U.S. attorney’s office on one count of wire fraud.
• Molly Nola pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of wire fraud. She admitted to fraudulent use of a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program card to purchase items at a Sam’s Club in Wichita.
• Daphne McWhinney pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of wire fraud. She also admitted to fraudulent use of a SNAP card to purchase food at Thai An Market in Wichita.
Retail stores brought the problem to law enforcement’s attention, Bennett said, and the undercover effort was launched in February 2013. It ran through September.
Dillons donated $19,000 in meat and merchandise to the investigation. Target also donated items, including electronics, home appliances, baby formula, baby wipes, detergent and meat.
Undercover detectives offered the purportedly stolen merchandise to people in businesses and residences across Wichita, the release said. Believing the items were stolen, buyers purchased the merchandise at a discounted price. In some cases, the suspects directed the undercover detective to return with specific types of stolen property, the release said.
The release said a home and business were searched and a vehicle and stolen merchandise were seized from several locations.