Bill would step up penalties for organized retail theft

Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, standing, and Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore, chair a meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety. (Image from YouTube)

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  • House Bill 1005 would strengthen penalties associated with organized retail theft.
  • Offenses involving property damage or assaults on store workers could lead to new felony charges.

Organized retail theft could carry stiffer criminal penalties, under a bill filed this week at the N.C. General Assembly. Some offenses could lead to prison sentences of up to 15 years.

Republican Reps. Jamie Boles, Ted Davis, Allen McNeill, and Carson Smith are lead sponsors of House Bill 1005, filed Thursday. The measure emerged from the work of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety.

North Carolina already criminalizes organized retail theft. H.B. 1005 expands on existing law.

It creates a new Class F felony for a person who conspires with someone else to steal $50,000 or more in property from one or more retail stores over a 90-day period, “with the intent to sell that retail property for monetary or other gain, and who takes or causes that retail property to be placed in the control of a retail property fence or other person in exchange for consideration.”

Authorities could charge the same felony for someone who conspires with at least two other people “as an organizer, supervisor, financier, leader, or manager to engage for profit in a scheme or course of conduct to effectuate the transfer or sale of property stolen from a merchant.”

A Class F felony carries a prison sentence of 10 to 41 months, not taking into account the offender’s prior record.

If the amount stolen tops $100,000 over a 90-day period, the charge could jump to a Class C felony, which carries a sentence of 44 to 182 months in prison. Those sentenced at the upper end of the scale would spend more than 15 years behind bars.

H.B. 1005 also would create new felony crimes for organized retail theft that causes more than $1,000 in property damage or involves an assault on a store employee or law enforcement officer.

Carolina Journal reported last December on the negative impact of “smash-and-grab” crimes linked to organized retail theft.

Thieves hit stores particularly hard during the last Christmas shopping season, even the small businesses barely recovering from the pandemic, labor shortages, and supply chain problems.

“They got through the first two waves of COVID and they are trying to stay open,” said Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association. “They are trying to be good job creators in their community, paying taxes, and providing jobs.”

While a majority of retailers say the pandemic triggered a rise in overall shoplifting, organized retail crime jumped almost 60%, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2021 National Retail Security Survey.

“If somebody knows they’re not going to be prosecuted for a crime, they are much more likely to do it,” said Ellen.

Money made reselling stolen goods often supports something more sinister, Ellen said.

“These items are often being used to fund other unsavory activities like human trafficking or opioids,” he said. “It’s feeding into these other crimes.”