12/22/2012 01:57 pm ET

'Operation Whoville': Grinches Won't Be Stealing Christmas As Probe Of Retail Theft Ring Yields 108 Arrests

There will be fewer Grinches this Christmas thanks to a successful law enforcement probe that busted retail theft rings for ripping off Chicagoland malls and shopping centers.

Dubbed "Operation Whoville" in a statement by State's Attorney Anita Alvarez Friday, the probe's name is a nod to the Dr. Seuss story "How The Grinch Stole Christmas." The Associated Press said over the past month, various area law enforcement agencies performed undercover sting operations that led to 108 arrests.

The covert undercover sting operations zeroed in on six Chicago-area malls, according to the Sun-Times, including North Riverside, Old Orchard, Orland Square, Woodfield, Gurnee Mills and the Aurora Outlet Malls.

According to a recent report by the independent, nonpartisan think tank Federation of American Scientists, the targets of organized retail crime are typically "boosters" and "fencers." As "boosters," professional shoplifters carry out the large-scale theft of everyday items and in turn sell them to "fencers" who re-sell the items for "significant untaxed profits."

The implications of organized retail crime can be significant, according to the FAS. Retailers pass the losses on to customers, while fenced health and beauty items like baby formula are often repackaged, relabeled, and subjected to altered expiration dates, posing health risks. Still others worry the profits can fund larger criminal activities or even terrorism.

In Cook County's operation, the Sun-Times reported law enforcement charged individuals with theft of items ranging from clothing, electronics and jewelry to over-the-counter medicine and baby formula; authorities also reportedly recovered "narcotics and guns from several suspects during the operation."

Though it was unknown whether the incidents were related to "Operation Whoville," several stores in Chicago's upscale Gold Coast neighborhood were knocked off in recent weeks, including a Jimmy Choo shoe store and an American Apparel.

This year's "Operation Whoville" may have built on the success of a similar operation under the same name in 2011. Last year, the stings started in October and netted 59 arrests by November, according to ABC Chicago.



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