ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A recent string of organized shoplifting has officers spotting many of the same offenders. Now, the Attorney General’s office is getting involved to get them behind bars.

Story continues below

From one man targeting Target dozens of times to a woman’s fondness for striking Kohl’s, thousands of dollars in merchandise are being stolen by the same people, and it’s only expected to get worse as we head into the holiday shopping season. It’s gotten so bad, state officials are getting involved.

“There’s been a huge problem where dangerous felons portray themselves as just shoplifters,” said Hector Balderas, Attorney General of New Mexico. “These cases fall through the cracks.”

One recent case, taken on by the AG’s office — 35-year-old Charmaine Sanchez, facing 11 shoplifting charges over the past three months. Officers say it’s in relation to an organized retail crime group, adding to an already lengthy criminal history outside of shoplifting.

“We really built a unit of retail partnerships, state and local and federal prosecutors and officers to really target the worst of the worst offenders who aren’t just shoplifters,” said Balderas. “These are dangerous individuals committing other crimes, and more importantly, they go to multiple counties and evade law enforcement and prosecution at an alarming rate.”

One of the other warrants issued in the same crime ring is Gabriel “Money” Herrera, with an even lengthier criminal history than Sanchez. Striking different Kohl’s around the metro, officers say they always have a getaway driver with a rotating series of cars at their disposal and no known jobs or source of income outside of the crime ring.

Balderas says when crooks with a history of more serious crimes are spotted in other cases — like these retail rings — that’s what will escalate the case to go to his office, rather than just local police. It’s one of the reasons they founded the unit specifically for organized retail crime.

“We created the unit about a year and a half ago where we actually put prosecutors partnering with investigators, and we actually partner with employees and other customers,” said Balderas. “We’ve seen great results because we’re targeting the problem and we’re identifying the worst of the worst offenders and going after them.”

Balderas does think these cases of organized retail crime could get worse, especially at big box stores as we head into the holidays. He asks customers to be extra vigilant of what they may see.

“This is not your run of the mill shoplifting operation. These are dangerous individuals who are targeting and using force and fraudulent means to really harm our community, so they deserve to be held accountable,” said Balderas. “Even families that are innocent and just there to buy goods and services really need to have a heightened sense of risk and awareness.”

The shoplifting charges are just one of many criminal cases Sanchez and Herrera have been involved in, including drug trafficking, armed robbery and car theft. Warrants were issued on Friday for Sanchez and Herrera but no arrests have been made yet.