ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque Police says a recent retail crime operation led to the recovery of thousands of dollars in merchandise and the arrest of nearly three dozen suspects. The department highlighted the results of the work at a news conference Tuesday while also promising more operations targeting the problem throughout the summer.

Calling it “Operation Sticky Fingers,” APD says teams of officers arrested 31 offenders, cleared 29 warrants and recovered nearly $7,000 in stolen merchandise in the recent sting. The operation took place the first week of May at several big box stores in the Coronado and Cottonwood shopping areas.

“We’re going out, we’re interfacing directly with the stores and their loss prevention and their employees, and creating zero tolerance zones for any kind of theft that’s occurring inside those businesses while we’re there,” said APD Acting Commander Kyle Hartsock, who oversees the department’s Investigative Enhancement Division. “It’s one thing that we all know someone’s stealing, but we also wanted to better track how they’re getting to these businesses.”

Of the 31 people arrested in the recent operation, APD says 29 of those individuals were either using city buses or walking on foot to and from the target businesses. Hartsock qualified some of the suspects behavior as “very bold and brazen thefts with no real fear of enforcement.”

The highest alleged theft was at a Kohl’s. APD arrested Wayne Toya, who was accused of walking out with $691.46 in merchandise. APD say Toya was compliant with police after being confronted.

Meanwhile, another suspect, Lorie Maldonado was arrested last week, accused of stealing $384.73 from a Burlington Coat Factory near Cottonwood Mall by walking out of the store’s fire exit and into an accomplice’s vehicle. APD says Maldonado was out on pre-trial release for a November 2022 shoplifting case where Maldonado is accused of showing a gun to employee who tried to stop her.

APD says this officer surveillance video shows shoplifting suspect Lorie Maldonado leaving a Burlington Coat Factor during an alleged theft from the retail store on May 3, 2023. | Image Courtesy: APD

Court records show Judge Bruce Fox denied the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office’s motion for pretrial detention following the November arrest, opting to release Maldonado on pre-trial services with a “zero tolerance for new shoplifting charges.” After her most recent arrest on May 3, Maldonado was remanded into custody in relation to the November case. Records show Maldonado was still booked in MDC as of Wednesday, May 10.

Starting June 16, shoplifting suspects will be subject to a new state law that could allow for tougher penalties. The law, House Bill 234, allows for prosecutors to combine the value of merchandise stolen from retailers over the course of 90 days, making it easier to pursue felony charges instead of misdemeanor charges. A total of more than $500 in stolen merchandise is considered a felony crime in New Mexico.

“Our detectives and officers very much plan on aggressively using this law,” Hartsock said. “You might only steal 30 or 40 dollars, or 80 dollars right now, but if you keep it up and keep doing it, you are going to get hit with a felony and have a much different outcome in court, that’s the idea behind the law.”

Hartsock said “the majority” of the people arrested in the recent sting were charged with misdemeanor shoplifting. However, the department believes the concept of a short term operation already showed some success last week.

“Kyle did notice one thing, he said by the end of the week, the word had gotten out, and there weren’t as many people out shoplifting,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said. “We’re hoping if we can mix it up, do a day here, two days here, that it’s going to have an impact on people’s mindset on when they’re going to shoplift, and when they’re not.”

Several state officials have placed more attention on retail crime operations over the last two years, including support for a new private database gathering intelligence about retail crime cases. In 2021, then-Attorney General Hector Balderas highlighted the issue, calling organized retail crime a “very profitable industry that’s funneling and fueling other criminal activity like human trafficking and gang activity.”