June 24th, 2024

Vancouver police crack down on stolen goods that turn up on downtown sidewalks

By The Canadian Press on June 6, 2024.

Vancouver Police say their crack down on "fencing" or the organized trafficking of stolen merchandise has led to five arrests and turned up more than $650,000 in cash, drugs and stolen property in the city's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Police cars are seen outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Jan. 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver police say a crackdown on the sale of stolen goods that turn up on the sidewalks of the city’s Downtown Eastside has led to five arrests and turned up more than $650,000 in cash, drugs and stolen property.

Insp. Mario Mastropieri says a shoplifting “epidemic” is fuelling an illicit market in stolen goods run by organized criminals, that’s affecting small businesses, their staff, and customers.

He says in a statement that much of the stolen property “runs straight through the Downtown Eastside,” where it’s bought in plain sight, then re-sold online for profit.

Specialized investigators worked with front line officers this spring to track stolen property from store shelves to downtown sidewalks, where police say “organized fencing operations pay pennies on the dollar for stolen goods.”

They say investigators then tracked stolen property – ranging from designer clothing to liquor to baby formula – to several homes in East Vancouver.

Police say search warrants stemming from the months-long operation led to five arrests, with suspects facing charges related to the possession of stolen property.

“Our work confirmed that fencing operations are fuelling an underground economy of shoplifting, and that some criminals are making thousands of dollars a week for buying and selling stolen merchandise,” Mastropieri’s statement says.

He says criminals have been recruiting desperate residents of the Downtown Eastside, where many struggle with addiction, to steal from stores in the area.

“They pay the thieves a fraction of the retail price for the merchandise they’ve stolen, then live comfortably off the avails of the goods they resell for big profits.”

The suspects arrested in March, April and May include two men and three women, ranging in age from their 40s to their 60s.

Police say searches of two East Vancouver homes led to the recovery of $233,000 worth of stolen property and the seizure of two Toyota vehicles that investigators believe were being used to move the goods out of the Downtown Eastside.

At another property near Trout Lake Park, police say they seized $107,000 worth of stolen property as well as $10,000 worth of cocaine and fentanyl.

Police say the arrests are among nearly 1,200 they’ve made since launching a project to clamp down on “violent and chronic shoplifting” in February 2023.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2024.

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