‘These crimes are not random’: Lawmakers targeting crime rings behind smash-and-grab robberies

Participating in a crime ring that steals from stores, such as the smash-and-grab robberies that have been seen at area malls over the past year, soon could be a felony under a bipartisan proposal touted last week by suburban lawmakers.

The measure, part of a Senate amendment to House Bill 1091, would create the offense of “organized retail crime” that could be punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The legislation defines organized retail crime as stealing with the intent to resell items, whether it be by the thieves or someone else. It also would apply to someone who organizes such an effort.

“Make no mistake, these crimes are not random,” state Sen. John Curran, a Republican from Downers Grove, said at a news conference March 29 introducing the legislation.

Curran described retail theft rings as sophisticated enterprises in which the thieves are often low-ranking members of criminal organizations. Law enforcement officials believe organized retail crime often is perpetrated by the same groups that are trafficking drugs and humans.

“Law enforcement will not only be able to attack first-line perpetrators, but everyone throughout the chain,” Curran said of the proposal.

The measure also calls for stricter regulations of online third-party marketplaces – examples include Amazon Marketplace and eBay – where criminals often sell the stolen goods. Marketplaces would be required to verify “high-volume sellers” – those who have 200 or more transactions or gross $5,000 or more in sales in a 12-month period – and collect information about them, including their bank or payment account numbers, names, email and physical addresses, taxpayer identification numbers and telephone numbers.

The marketplaces also would have to prominently display a mechanism for people to report suspicious activity.

The legislation is attached as an amendment to House Bill 1091, known as the “Fix the FOID Act,” which makes changes to the firearm owners identification card law.

State Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton, a Democrat from Western Springs, introduced the bill. Her district includes Oakbrook Center mall, where 14 thieves took part in the smash-and-grab robbery of a Louis Vuitton store in November.

“Retail theft is not a victimless crime,” Glowiak said. “People come in to smash and grab and they scare the employees [and] the folks who are there patronizing the store. People fear for their lives at that point.

“I’ve never seen anything like these brazen attacks on our stores,” she added.

As for the proposed legislation, “It is not the intent to prosecute two high school girls that go into a drugstore and steal a lipstick,” she said.