Organized retail crime across the nation has been on the rise the past few years.
Of the 125 loss prevention executives with business from across the nation, 96 percent said their businesses were victims of organized retail crime between April 2011 and April 2012, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation.
That's up slightly from 94.5 percent reported over the same time period the pervious year.
"These organized criminal groups are very adaptive in how they operate. It is essentially a business enterprise," said Rich Mellor, vice president of loss prevention with the federation.
Additionally, 66 percent said they noticed an increase in organized retail crimes over the course of the year, the survey found.
On Wednesday, West York Police announced that 110 people have been charged for their alleged involvement in a retail theft ring based in the borough.
Officials said the ring netted an estimated $750,000 in stolen merchandise but that amount could be closer to a $1 million.
E-fencing: The alleged ringleader, James Lee Giuffrida, 30, whose last known address is in the 1400 block of West Market Street, was charged with two counts of organized retail theft and one count each of retail theft and receiving stolen property in November, according to his charging documents.
He is in York County Prison on $25,000 bail for these charges and on a probation detainer.
Ring members stole merchandise Giuffrida then bought and sold, or exchanged the items for store gift cards, which Giuffrida also then bought and sold at a profit on the Internet, police allege.
He often used online auction sites, said West York patrolman Dave Kahley, who headed the investigation.
Known as e-fencing, Mellor said offloading stolen merchandise through the Internet has become common over the past five years or so.
However, more well known auction sites are wising up to the criminal practice and have loss prevention departments that troll the site for suspected stolen merchandise.
Tip: West York Police were tipped off to the ring in October when a resident who lives near Powerhouse Graphix, the business Giuffrida operated at 1415 W. Market St., suspected illegal activity and contacted authorities.
From there police launched an investigation they at least thought would be wrapped up in a matter of weeks.
"We thought it was just going to be a dozen people and we would have it wrapped up in a couple of weeks," Kahley said.
Undoubtedly a large-scale operation, the ring in West York pales in comparison with those uncovered in large metropolitan areas.
Between June 2009 and March 2010, authorities in Baltimore County, Md., uncovered an operation that stole and then sold between $30 and $45 million worth of over-the-counter medications and beauty care products, according to the federation.
Mellor said operations like that sometimes take years to crack with the help of federal law enforcement due to the pure magnitude.
Health issue: The theft and reselling of medical or beauty supplies can be a public health issue, Mellor said.
The stolen items could have been stored inappropriately, such as in damp areas that could damage the product, by thieves before being sold to small stores that in turn sell the items to customers, he said.
Also, the expiration date on a package of, for example, teeth whitening strips may not have been the date that was stamped on the package before it left the factory.
"They've (members of organized retail crime rings) found ways to manipulate the expiration date," Mellor said.
- Reach Greg Gross at email@example.com.