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San Francisco Police Bust Massive Theft Ring Targeting High-End Retail

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Authorities in San Francisco announced the bust of a major organized retail theft ring should make the holiday shopping season a little more merry for store owners in San Francisco.

The task force, called "Operation Wrecking Ball," was comprised of multiple local, state and national law enforcement agencies. It targeted organized groups of thieves that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and then illegally resold it.

The operation started eight months ago after years of frustration among retailers with the growing problem. Thursday afternoon, SFPD announced the arrest of 12 suspected thieves involved with the ring. Authorities are still looking for 28 more suspects.

They recovered more than $300,000 in stolen goods and at least twice that amount in suspected stolen goods.

"The majority of the property crime in the city is being committed by a very small number of people; a small number of people that are doing this for profit," said San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascon at the press conference. "They are victimizing people over and over and over again."

Police said the criminal enterprise involves several organized crime rings. The first layer of people stole the goods -- items including designer purses, clothing, tablets and smartphones and even medicine. Others sold those goods at flea markets, on the Internet or the sidewalks of SF's UN Plaza.

Sometimes they sold them farther away than that.

"We discovered the retail thefts in the city of San Francisco extend beyond Bay Area cities; as far east as Texas as far north as Seattle and as far south as LA," said SFPD Chief William Scott.

Last year, San Francisco was in the top ten worst cities for retail theft. The Union Square Business Improvement District says it has become an epidemic. Karin Flood, the district's executive director, says some of the bigger department stores are hit more than three times a day.

One loss prevention manager for a major retailer told KPIX off camera that the damages are in the millions for 2018 alone.

Retail theft is one of the major reason the business improvement district mounted 360-degree security cameras around Union Square. Police said they were instrumental in helping catch and charge the accused thieves.

"We hope they do catch [the remaking 28 thieves] and that word gets out to stop stealing from our shops," said Flood.

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