Crime & Courts

Woman arraigned in KC theft ring

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A Missouri woman is charged with possessing property stolen from several Kansas City-area retail stores, and police in Kansas say several family members and friends could be charged next.

Jennifer Dawn Austin, 31, of Belton, Mo., was arrested Dec. 8 after Belton police executed a search warrant and found several stolen items, including expensive electronics, taken from stores such as Target, Gordman's, JCPenney, Kohl's and Toys R Us.

According to a probable cause statement, Austin admitted to investigators that she had been involved in thefts from several metro Kansas City stores.

Overland Park police believe Austin and others began a crime spree on Black Friday, taking advantage of a high volume of shoppers that made it easier to walk out of the stores with stolen merchandise.

Detective Andrew Kearney said several people have been told they are suspects in the theft ring and are being given a chance to come clean before they are charged. He said anywhere from six to a dozen arrest warrants could be issued within weeks.

"The reason (the warrants) have not gone out yet, we're trying to give everyone a chance to come in and explain themselves to see if there's some justifiable reason in their minds for some of the stuff that's been going on," Kearney said.

He said all of the suspects are unemployed.

Police don't see the suspects as a flight risk because of their lifelong ties to the Kansas City area, he said.

During Austin's arrest, investigators discovered that she had an outstanding warrant for parole violation in a Johnson County identity theft case. Her public defender was in court Wednesday and not immediately available for comment.

Kearney said other suspects also have checkered pasts.

"I can say that these folks involved, a majority of them have extensive criminal histories," Kearney said. "They've been at this stuff for some time."

He said police also are keeping an eye on dozens of other groups who are operating similar theft rings.