The four suspected shoplifters arrested Wednesday during a series of raids in Baltimore were part of a well-organized group that has been stealing from businesses since at least January, the police said yesterday.
"This was no hit-and-miss thing," said Sgt. Roger Brown, a detective. "It was well-organized."
He said members of the group were trained in shoplifting, then driven from one business to another by two ringleaders who would wait for them in the parking lot.
Police investigators said they believe that one of the ringleaders was among those arrested Wednesday. She was identified as Carol Jergensen, 37, of the 1300 block of Airlie Way, Baltimore County.
The other is still at large, police said. They said that some of the shoplifters involved in the ring were junkies with $50- to $100-a-day heroin habits.
Coats with hidden pockets sewn inside or with torn liners were used to hide stolen items ranging from meats to cigarettes, Sergeant Brown said.
He said a raincoat used by one member allowed him to walk out with as many as 20 cartons of cigarettes. The stolen goods were then sold to other merchants for half their retail value. Three of those merchants were also arrested and charged with receiving stolen goods.
Shoplifting costs Maryland merchants an estimated $450 million last year, according to Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association. He said about $175 million of that was lost to merchants in the Baltimore area.
"As the economy gets in a worsening condition, you can expect to see shoplifting increase," Mr. Saquella said.
"It's the sort of thing that people tend to wink at, but it's a major, major problem. In the end it's the consumers who foot the bill, because the theft cost is passed along to them."