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Dec. 1, 2023

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Washington AG’s new team fighting organized retail theft presses first charges

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Target video still captures of April 29, 2022 and police picture at Kent Target location.
Target video still captures of April 29, 2022 and police picture at Kent Target location. (Attorney General's Office) Photo Gallery

A Bremerton man was charged Thursday with first-degree organized retail theft, marking the first prosecution by a new Attorney General’s Office unit created to crack down on organized retail crime.

Shawn Dale Nanez, 33, was charged in 11 spring 2022 thefts in King and Kitsap counties, accused of stealing more than $50,000 in merchandise from Target stores, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Video footage showed Nanez using a tool to break into security cases containing electronic items, putting the items in a shopping cart and walking out of the stores without paying, according to the office. Nanez told investigators he sold the merchandise — which included headphones, tablets, routers, televisions and Bluetooth speakers — to a third party for cash, the agency said.

Nanez was arrested in June 2022 after the security team at a Target in Lakewood, Pierce County, contacted the city’s Police Department. He’s charged with felonies in both King and Kitsap County superior courts.

If convicted, Nanez faces a prison sentence of at least four years and a $20,000 penalty for each felony count: one apiece in both King and Kitsap counties. He previously pleaded guilty to a charge of retail theft with special circumstances in 2020.

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In April, the state Legislature funded Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s request to create a 10-person Organized Retail Crime Unit focusing on investigating and prosecuting groups of individuals who steal and resell products from retail stores.

Ferguson on Thursday named Assistant Attorney General Kent Liu as the unit’s leader. The office is hiring investigators, prosecutors, paralegals and a data analyst to staff the unit.

“Our new unit is hitting the ground running and pursuing cases as we hire our team,” Ferguson said in a news release. “This is the first of what we hope will be many cases bringing accountability to this significant and growing problem.”

Distinct from shoplifting or poverty-driven crimes, Ferguson’s office defines organized retail crime as “not the result of a single individual breaking the law, but rather part of an organized scheme to defraud retailers or to steal products for resale elsewhere.”

Organized retail crime has been a source of increasing theft, according to the National Retail Federation. The trade group’s annual survey showed that Seattle was one of the cities most affected in 2022, along with Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Houston and New York.

In September, Target announced it was closing Seattle stores in Ballard and the University District, citing crime and safety concerns. Both stores had fewer calls for service to Seattle police than stores in Northgate, downtown and Westwood Village.

“Theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance,” Target said in a statement.

A July report from the Seattle Office of City Auditor theorized that organized retail crime has increased in part due to online marketplaces for selling stolen goods.

The auditor’s office recommended the city request assistance from the Attorney General’s Office’s new unit when investigating organized retail crime. It also suggested that state and federal legislation could help address organized retail crime and provide funding or technical assistance.

A proposed state Senate bill would have set new requirements for reporting organized retail crime to law enforcement and provided tax relief for retailers and cannabis shops to pay for physical security improvements. The bill died in committee in the 2023 legislative session.

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