Twin Cities men charged in large-scale shoplifting scheme

Published 8:39 am Monday, August 27, 2018

By Matt Sepic

MPR News/90.1 FM

Two Twin Cities men are facing racketeering charges in connection with an alleged shoplifting ring that targeted metro area retailers over a period of years. Authorities say the suspects stole around $1 million worth of merchandise and sold it at a discount on eBay.

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The investigation began in late June when Woodbury police arrested Brian James Bowling, 45, when he left a J.C. Penney store with a $1,400 mattress.

According to the criminal complaint, Bowling, of St. Paul, soon admitted to officers that he stole the mattress, as well as other items, and sold them to 54-year-old Randal David Simmons of Landfall, who’s also charged.

Police let Bowling go, but they tailed him for the next eight weeks. Woodbury police Sgt. Neil Bauer said Bowling worked fast.

“It was no more than a couple minutes inside the store. It was in and out rapidly. If we weren’t on the scene watching right away, we’d miss it,” Bauer said.

Investigators say Bowling stole a wide variety of items: tents and duffel bags from REI, vacuum cleaners from Walmart, $5,600 worth of blue jeans from Nordstrom, fish locators from Cabela’s, and fish filters from PetSmart. Besides the big chains, they allegedly targeted small independent retailers, too.

Bauer said Simmons kept the loot in apartment garages and a rented storage unit. On Tuesday police arrested him. They also raided the garages — as well as homes in Shoreview and St. Paul — and found hundreds of items, all in their original packaging.

“We anticipated that there was going to be a large volume of product. However we had no idea of the scale and magnitude that we were going to discover,” Bauer said.

The criminal complaint says three eBay accounts associated with Simmons had $134,000 in sales in the first seven months of this year.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput has prosecuted racketeering cases that have mostly involved drugs and prostitution. Orput said the sheer size of the alleged operation warrants a racketeering conviction.

“This could be bigger. And so we’re working pretty hard to find the full extent of it and it may take us a little bit longer,” Orput said. “But for now, we’ve got a lot of the property back, and I hope to hold everyone to account for their thievery.”

In a statement, eBay said it can’t comment on the specifics of the case, but that the company did support law enforcement during the investigation.

The internet auction company provided detectives with the three active eBay IDs that Simmons allegedly used to sell the stolen merchandise.

Several hours after authorities announced the charges, all three of the user IDs listed in the complaint were active. They had dozens of items of brand new retail merchandise still listed for sale. The three accounts have since been deactivated.