Miami may not be the worst city in the nation for "organized retail crime" -- that dubious distinction belongs to Los Angeles -- but the problem has gotten so big that South Florida authorities Tuesday announced a new task force with the goal of containing it.
Retail theft, estimated to run as high as $30 billion a year nationwide, has spread widely as thieves have become part of criminal networks that move stolen goods through flea markets, on the Internet and overseas. More than 90 percent of America's retailers have reported being victims of "ORC."
"We're not speaking about your simple onesy-twosy shoplifter," said Alysa Erichs, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations. "These are individuals known as 'boosters' who are essentially professional thieves.
"They work at the bottom rung of criminal organizations and are responsible for collecting as much stolen merchandise as possible in a day for resale at a later time," added Erichs, who stood in front of a table of recently seized over-the-counter drugs and beauty aids worth $7,000.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said that Miami's reputation as the "gateway to the Americas" cuts two ways: It's good for business, but also for thieves, pointing out the region ranks fourth in the country for organized retail crime, behind L.A., New York and Chicago.
Ferrer said "that title can lend itself to being abused" with the trading of stolen merchandise.
He said thieves can range from a couple recently busted for stealing more than $30,000 from Toys 'R Us stores to violent regional gangs to Eastern European syndicates.