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Aurora outlet mall one of sites in ‘Operation Whoville’

Updated: January 24, 2013 6:34AM

More than 100 people have been charged in a holiday undercover investigation that targeted organized retail theft rings targeting malls and shopping centers around the area.

The investigation, dubbed “Operation Whoville,” involved a series of separate undercover sting operations at six Chicago-area malls, including the Chicago Premium Outlets mall in Aurora, and the North Riverside, Old Orchard, Orland Square, Woodfield and Gurnee Mills malls. Arrests were also made at shops on Michigan Avenue and State Street in Chicago, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced Friday.

A total of 108 people were arrested over the last month and charged with theft of a variety of products including clothing, electronics and jewelry, as well as the large-scale theft of over-the-counter medicines and baby formula from big box retail outlets. Authorities also recovered narcotics and guns from several suspects during the operation, Alvarez said.

The operation targeted individuals as well as people operating in organized retail theft crews, who stole merchandise and then passed along the stolen goods to major fencing operations. According to investigators, the crews generally worked in groups.

The month-long operation was coordinated by the Cook State’s Attorney’s Regional Organized

Crime Task Force, a group of law enforcement and retail partners formed to combat organized retail theft and fencing.

“Large scale retail theft and fencing has become so rampant and so sophisticated that the average holiday shopper may not even realize it is happening around them,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said information developed through the task force led to the arrest of several people involved in a widespread credit card fraud ring. The thieves were re-encoding Target gift cards with stolen credit card numbers and using them to buy high-end electronics. When they were arrested, authorities recovered 85 iPads, valued at more than $50,000, as well as $10,000 in cash, numerous iTunes gift cards, a handgun and equipment used to re-encode gift cards.

The Aurora Police Department, Chicago Police Department, Illinois State Police and about a dozen other departments were involved in the investigation.

Alvarez said the investigation also received support from several well-known retailers, among them Target, JCPenney, Sears, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, The Gap, Walgreens, Jewel-Osco, Dominick’s, OfficeMax, Meijer’s, American Express, Abercrombie, Hollister, Toys R Us and Sport’s Authority.

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