Nanaimo News Bulletin

UPDATED: Police lay charges against prolific shoplifters

Const. Gary O
Const. Gary O'Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, takes media through the merchandise Mounties recovered after busting a shoplifting ring in the city.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Charges have been laid in what police describe as one of Nanaimo's most prolific shoplifting rings in recent memory.

Police arrested four people Monday after carrying out a search warrant at 11:15 a.m. at a house in the 1900 block of Prince Charles Place, located in Cedar, south of Nanaimo.

Investigators recovered more than $22,000 worth of stolen clothing and confiscated two rifles and ammunition found improperly stored together in an unlocked safe.

Starla Melody Seward, 40, Elizabeth Anne Marie Joe, 19, Jeremy Frank Sawyer, 20, and Anderson Tommy, 41, have all been charged with possession of stolen property over $5,000.

Seward and Tommy were also charged with careless storage of firearms.

"This is a highly organized shoplifting ring that worked from Nanaimo to Victoria," said Const. Gary O'Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman. "This was a family-based business and we believe they've been active for a number of years."

Police received information about the operation in December.

O'Brien said one of the investigators commented that in his 25 years of service he had never seen more stolen goods in one place.

Police put the piles of seized clothing on display with the plastic totes they were found in. Each pile of goods was tagged with its total retail value. It took several members more than a day to sort and catalogue the merchandise.

Some of the stores the goods belong to have been identified and include Old Navy, Sears, The Bay, Suzy Shier, RW&CO, SportChek, Spencer's and Reaction Source for Sports. It could take weeks to return the items to their owners.

The shoplifting ring is believed to have been operating for at least two years.

O'Brien said people would call in requesting certain items, which the suspects would go out and collect from various retailers.

"They would get text messages or phone calls from people placing orders," O'Brien said. "For example, a pair of jeans for $80, they would sell for $40."

An 11-year-old child who lives in the house, but was not home at the time of the arrests, has been placed in care of relatives.

"In the child's room was a safe with two rifles and ammunition," O'Brien said. "The safe was unlocked."

The rifles will be checked to see if they were ever registered or if they were ever involved in any crimes.

Tuesday afternoon loss prevention officers from stores throughout Nanaimo viewed the items to help investigators determine the origins of items not yet catalogued.

"This is probably the largest shoplifting ring we've seen in years, so (the arrest) will have a significant dent," O'Brien said.

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