Police raided five grocery stores and a tavern last night and arrested six people believed to be members of a major shoplifting ring.
Police said the shoplifters fenced the goods at the stores and the tavern. The goods were sold in the neighborhood.
Two suspects were released early today after bail hearings and four were awaiting hearings.
Some of the shoplifters used the profits to purchase drugs, police said, adding that investigators observed alleged fencing and drug buys.
At one grocery, on Cokesbury Avenue in midtown, dozens of residents cheered police as the owner was arrested.
"It's a big shoplifting operation, and shoplifting is one of the hardest crimes to solve," said Dennis S. Hill, a police spokesman. As part of the investigation, undercover police bought allegedly stolen goods at two of the raided stores, said Lt. Eugene Yeagar.
"There are obviously other" stores involved, Yeagar said, adding that the investigation will continue.
Hill said the thieves stole "thousands of cartons of cigarettes a week," frozen meats and other items from supermarkets as far away as Western Maryland and Virginia.
Police, who recovered 200 cartons of cigarettes at one store, said the cigarettes were fenced for $6 to $7.50 a carton.
"We believe some of the shoplifters were drug users, not all of them," Hill said. "They stole the items as a low-impact way to cop the drugs."
The raided businesses were Jin's Grocery, 600 block of Cokesbury Ave.; Homewood Market, 700 block of E. 22nd St.; and four sites in Remington -- Al's Tavern in the 2700 block of Miles Ave.; Sam & Angie's food store, 2700 block of Huntingdon Ave.; Ron's Market, 2700 block of Miles Ave.; and A Valenza's Deli, 2600 block of Miles Ave.
Those arrested in the 7 p.m. raids were:
* Young Man Kim, 48, of the 2100 block of Suburban Greens Drive in the Lutherville-Timonium area, owner of Jin's Grocery, where he was arrested.
* To Il Ma, 51, of the 3900 block of Pinedale Drive in Perry Hall. He owns Homewood Market and was arrested there.
Both Kim and Ma have been charged with theft over $300 and conspiracy to commit theft, police said.
About 6:15 p.m. yesterday, two men and two women suspected of being members of the ring were stopped in a car at 31st Street and Hillen Road, police said. Police recovered several stolen cartons of cigarettes and four $25 bags of heroin in the car. They were charged with theft and heroin possession.
Police identified those arrested in the car as Bruce Cox, 32, of the 2700 block of Creston Road in Dundalk; Randall Page Therit, 29, of the 7800 block of Aiken Ave. in the Parkville area; Jill Cox, 31, of the 2500 block of Harwood Road in the Carney area; and Carol Jurgenson, 37, of the 1300 block of Airlie Way in the Towson area.
Kim, Ma, Jill Cox and Jurgenson were awaiting bail hearings today. Bruce Cox and Therit were released on their own recognizance early today.
Police say they think Jurgenson is a leader of the ring.
In January, the Giant Food supermarket chain tipped police that someone was stealing cigarettes and meats. Later, a civilian notified police that drug addicts were part of the shoplifting ring, Hill said.
City police began an investigation, using the Eastern District narcotics unit and the department's criminal investigation division, and placed several locations under surveillance. The Maryland office of the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assisted and helped decipher codes on cigarette packs that identify distributors.
During the raid at Jin's Grocery, residents cheered as Hill held up a carton of cigarettes that had "Giant #1185" stamped on it. Residents also applauded police when a handcuffed Kim was placed in a paddy wagon. "We want more, we want more!" they shouted.
Also, a detective brought out boxes of allegedly stolen meats with the names of Mars, Super Fresh and other supermarkets printed on them.
Neighbors said the shoplifting ring was in operation for at least two years.