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ORC 5-16-11





2011 Archives

Supplied by Jerry Biggs, Walgreens, Director - Organized Retail Crime Division

CHICAGO--(ENEWSPF)--May 12, 2011. Ten people have been charged in connection with a year-long investigation into organized retail theft and LINK card fraud Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced Thursday.

"Operation Broken LINK" targeted suburban convenience stores engaged in illegal practices involving the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards known in Illinois as "LINK." Over the course of the investigation, the Cook County Sheriff's Office worked with the United States Department of Agriculture's Office of the Inspector General to identify vendors trading LINK benefits for cash, and dealing in stolen merchandise.

The Cook County Sheriff's Office first developed intelligence regarding the LINK card fraud in May 2010. Detectives were able to identify a number of stores in the city and suburbs that were giving customers cash back on their LINK cards in violation of USDA rules. In addition, many of these same stores were trafficking in stolen goods -- merchandise taken from the shelves of retailers like Walgreens and resold to impoverished customers for five times the original price. 

Through the use of undercover investigators, Cook County Sheriff's Police detectives and USDA agents methodically gained the confidence of owners and clerks at the target stores who were engaged in the illegal practices. Utilizing LINK cards provided by the USDA, undercover agents conducted monitored transactions at the businesses, regularly obtaining cash back and purchasing illicit items on the cards.

Stores identified as committing ongoing violations were:  Convenient Food Mart on the 1000 block of 25th St., Bellwood, Convenient Food Mart on the 1000 block of 25th St., Bellwood, Sam's Pantry on the 3200 block of St. Charles Rd., Bellwood, LNR Family Store (formerly Alqud's) on the 1000 block of South 5th Ave., Maywood, and Lox Food & Liquor on the 1800 block of St. Charles Rd., Bellwood.

Detectives identified similar patterns and practices of LINK card fraud and retail theft common to most of the vendors. Undercover agents would bring purportedly "stolen" merchandise to the establishments and ask for money in exchange. Of particular interest to the store owners were items such as razors and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. The vendors would pay the seller a small fraction of the retail value of the item, then resell it in the store for five times the original cost. Some stores kept log books near the register to keep track of the money given to LINK recipients and the amount charged to each card.

On one occasion, an undercover investigator entered Sam's Pantry in Bellwood with a plastic bag containing "stolen" goods from Walgreens. The owner purchased three packages of Mach3 razors from the undercover for $3.00. The total retail value of the packages is $77.97. In addition, the undercover requested a "one-for-one" transaction in the amount of $40.00, which means an even split of cash from a fake transaction. The owner gave the undercover the agreed-upon cash back, but then swiped the LINK card two times, doubling his take, thinking the undercover wouldn't know.

Vendors regularly added $20.00 or more "fees" for cash back transactions in order to increase their own profits. Based on their LINK transactions, vendors r

ORC 5-16-11
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