Senate Passes Bills to Crack Down on Organized Retail Crime

June 18, 2012

The New York State Senate today passed legislation, sponsored by Senator Lee Zeldin (R, C, I- Shirley), that would crack down on organized retail crime, a growing problem that harms businesses and their customers.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, organized retail theft is an industry that costs United States retailers about $30 billion per year. Supermarket losses account for $15 billion of that annual theft.  Additionally, state and local governments are losing out on tens of millions of dollars annually in lost sales tax and excise fee revenue.

“We must protect consumers and businesses that are victims of this expanding crime network,” said Senator Zeldin, Chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee.  “This legislative package finally puts teeth into the crackdown on organized retail crime.”

The legislative package consists of five bills that would:

> Define Organized Retail Crime as the “theft of retail merchandise with an aggregated value of $1,000, and classifies it as grand larceny in the fourth degree, punishable by up to four years in prison. (S6956A)

> Grant jurisdiction to any county when at least one of the crimes constituting a pattern occurs within the county. Under this legislation, one district court would be granted jurisdiction over all criminal offenses, persons, and property that form the pattern of criminal offenses.

> Creates a Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, for individuals who lead retail theft crime rings. (S6959B)

> Make it a Class B misdemeanor to use an access device, such as a counterfeit or fraudulently obtained credit card, account number or gift card, with the intent to defraud, as part of an organized retail crime operation. (S6954B) 

>  Make it a crime to use an emergency exit to facilitate a theft from a retail establishment.  Thieves have been known to hide in retail stores and wait for all employees to leave before removing large amounts of goods through emergency exits. This bill would make this crime grand larceny in the fourth degree. (S6957B)

Additionally, a few weeks ago, the Senate passed a bill (S7370), sponsored by Senator Charles Fuschillo (R, Merrick), that prohibits retail sales receipt fraud and Universal Product Code fraud and provides for criminal penalties for such crimes.  

David Golub, Senior Vice President Administration of Price Chopper, said: “There has been quite a proliferation of organized retail crime over the past few years.  Not only is organized retail crime expensive to our organization, but it causes our customers to incur additional costs.  Astoundingly, organized retail crime accounts for 66% of our known external theft, but makes up only 20% of the incidence. Individuals or groups that commit organized retail crime have learned to beat the current system.  They travel from county to county and steal under the dollar threshold currently contained in the penal law so that they can avoid felony prosecution. We applaud the Senator for taking the lead on this important issue and addressing this growing problem.”

Retail Council of New York State President and CEO James R. Sherin said: “Organized retail crime rings operate and threaten consumers in every part of this state.  Senator Zeldin recognized the danger immediately and responded with a package of bold and important bills that the retail industry wholeheartedly supports. This is not garden-variety, personal use theft. It's highly organized, sophisticated, and dangerous criminal activity that demands a sophisticated and coordinated response.  Coupled with the retail industry's partnership with law enforcement throughout the state, these bills will provide the tools necessary to protect consumers, preserve tens of millions in sales tax revenue now lost to organized retail crime, and get the criminals off the street.”

The legislative package, now goes to the Assembly, where it is being carried by Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D- Staten Island).