Following an interstate investigation into a “take-out” theft scheme, a 24-year-old man from Windsor, Connecticut was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
The case was part of ‘Operation American Steal’, a multi-agency investigation into multiple take-out robberies at Northeast fashion stores. The term refers to incidents where multiple perpetrators enter a store, take as much clothing and merchandise as they can carry, walk out of the store without paying, and drive off in a waiting getaway vehicle.
Jahlil Parrott was sentenced on May 20 by US District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant in Hartford to 30 months in prison. His sentencing also includes three years of probation for participating in a massive commercial flight spree. The news was announced by U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, Vanessa Roberts Avery.
The investigation involved officials from various states, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and police departments in Hartford, New Canaan, Wrentham, Massachusetts and Auburn, Massachusetts, as well as some in Nassau County. US Assistant Attorneys Margaret Donovan and Brendan Keefe prosecuted the case.
Parrott, also known as “Stretch”, was part of a ring that committed more than 50 take-out thefts in 2019 and 2020. Thieves struck outposts for Polo Ralph Lauren, TJ Maxx, Balenciaga, Burberry, Macy’s, Marshalls, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Tommy Hilfiger, Sephora and other retailers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. They then transported the stolen merchandise to Connecticut and sold the items on the internet and on the streets. Affected retailers suffered combined losses of more than $100,000 during the program, according to Avery’s office.
The conviction highlights an issue that has plagued retailers for several years. According to the National Retail Foundation, organized crime thefts in retail cost retailers an average of $720,000 for every billion dollars in sales in 2020, up from $450,000 five years prior.
Over the past year, viral videos and increased media attention on take-out flights at stores such as Louis Vuitton and Nordstrom in different parts of the country have raised awareness of ORC. In a 2021 survey conducted by NRF, 69% of retailers reported an increase in ORC incidents. Decreased prosecutions for crimes perceived as “victimless”, rising crime thresholds, new opportunities for theft arising during the pandemic and the growth of online markets were cited as reasons for the increase. The NRF noted how losses increase costs for retailers, and therefore consumers, with stolen items ranging from low-cost items to designer clothes.
The NRF appealed to Congress for some time to grant law enforcement funds and other resources to compensate for the ORC. The Integrity, Notice and Fairness of Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act would require online marketplaces to verify the identity of high-volume third-party sellers. Currently being debated, this legislation aims to make it harder to get stolen goods online and to try to reduce the sale of counterfeit products. Late last month, the Fraternal National Order of Police sent a letter to Congress earlier this month urging it to support the INFORM Act.
Parrott was involved in at least 34 thefts that resulted in losses of more than $98,000, according to a statement from Avery’s office. During one of the robberies, he bit a loss prevention officer, who apprehended him as he attempted to steal some of the property, the statement said. Operation American Steal also highlights some of the different ways thieves thrive on shoplifting and ORC.
One of the others implicated in the interstate crimes was Sharnice Jackson, 20, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with a scheme to defraud Victoria’s Secret stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts. According to court documents and statements, Jackson and others stole thousands of dollars from the retailer’s parent company, L Brands. They did this by shoplifting Victoria’s Secret merchandise and returning the goods without receipts to get gift cards for the amount of the stolen goods. They later exchanged the gift cards for merchandise of a slightly higher value and charged the excess amount to a debit card linked to a co-conspirator. They then returned the purchased merchandise and received a full refund credited to the co-conspirator’s debit card.
After a grand jury returned a six-count indictment against Parrott and seven others, Parrott was apprehended in November 2020. Last December, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport and possess stolen property. Parrott has been detained since August 2021.
His seven co-defendants had already been convicted after pleading guilty.
A spokesperson for the US State’s Attorney’s Office in Connecticut declined to comment on whether the investigation could set a precedent for others or have a deterrent effect on criminals.
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