TRENTON, NJ (WTXF) - Thirteen individuals were indicted on charges that they conspired in a shoplifting ring in South Jersey that stole more than $100,000 worth of clothing items from Marshalls and TJ Maxx stores, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced Tuesday.
A state grand jury indictment was obtained by the Division of Criminal that charged 27-year-old Alicia C. Blackburne of Galloway, New Jersey and 29-year-old Robert J. Campbell also of Galloway (and who lives with Blackburne) with second-degree crime of leader of an organized retail theft enterprise.
Blackburne and Campbell are the alleged leaders of the ring, according to the press release issued by the Acting Attorney General.
In addition to those charges, Blackburne and Campbell were charged along with 11 other defendants with second-degree conspiracy, second-degree shoplifting, and third-degree shoplifting.
The charges are the result of an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Strategic Investigation South Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice. They worked along with TJX Corporation Loss Prevention investigators, who had been tracking the ring's activities.
According to the press release, Marshalls and TJ Maxx stores in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean, and Monmouth counties were targeted.
Each of the thefts allegedly followed a consistent pattern.
Campbell would allegedly drive Blackburne to a store and she would enter along with a large shoulder bag. Upon entering, Blackburne would allegedly put several high-end designer women's clothing into the bag and go to a restroom where she would remove security tags.
Then, she would allegedly leave the store with the stolen items and give them to a co-conspirator who either rode with her and Campbell or drove separately.
That person would then allegedly enter the store immediately and do a non-receipt return of the stolen clothing, getting a TJX Corporation gift card in exchange.
TJX is the parent company for Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Home Goods.
According to the press release, the value of the cards varied from a few hundred dollars to over $800.
The press release alleged that Blackburne or Campbell typically would pawn the cards at pawn shops to receive approximately half of the face value in cash.
Allegedly, between July 2014 and August 2015 the ring stole approximately $102,000 from the targeted stores using that method.
"Organized retail theft cost merchants $44 billion last year nationwide, according to an industry estimate," said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. "It's easy to see how the losses mount when you're dealing with thieves as methodical and prolific as the alleged members of this theft ring. We'll continue to work closely with the industry to investigate and aggressively prosecute these criminal enterprises."
"Working with the New Jersey State Police and TJX Corporation, we put a halt to the crooked shopping spree allegedly perpetrated by these defendants," said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. "Our thorough investigation enabled us to indict all 13 defendants on second-degree charges as members of an organized retail theft enterprise, which means they face up to 10 years in prison."
"The amount of theft our detectives were able to associate with this ring shows that organized retail theft is big business and it is not a victimless crime. This large scale theft costs everyone money," said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. "Members of the public who suspect that someone is shoplifting should not look the other way, but should report their suspicions to store security or police."
Eleven other defendants were charged in the indictment. They are believed to have allegedly conspired in the thefts, primarily by making non-receipt returns of the stolen clothing to obtain TJX gift cards.
Each person has been charged with second-degree conspiracy, second-degree shoplifting, and third-degree shoplifting.
They have been identified as:
1. Courtney L. Perkins, 21, of Mays Landing, N.J.,
2. Amanda A. Rivera, 29, of Cape May Court House, N.J.,
3. Julias A. Williams, 57, of Cape May Court House, N.J.,
4. Megan A. Flinn, 20, of Galloway, N.J.,
5. Benett L. Bollinger, 35, of Smithville, N.J.,
6. Jennifer Distefano, 28, of Smithville, N.J.,
7. William H. Lowe, 31, of Cape May Court House, N.J.,
8. Edward J. Vanaman, 26, of Cape May Court House, N.J.,
9. Priscilla E. Laboy, 20, of Petersburg, N.J.,
10. Dylan A. Gallo, 21, of Villas, N.J., and
11. Ashley P. Blackburne, 20, of Cape May Court House, N.J., who is Alicia Blackburne's niece.
The indictment was handed over to Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier in Mercer County. He then assigned the case to Atlantic County where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment at a later time.