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Public Statements

Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 2006 Through 2009

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of H.R. 3402, the Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act, which contains an amendment that I proposed during the consideration of the bill by the House Judiciary Committee to address the rising threat of Organized Retail Theft, ORT.

ORT poses a serious threat to our Nation's consumers and businesses. It is estimated that professional organized retail theft rings are responsible for pilfering up to $30 billion in merchandise from retail stores annually.

Organized retail theft groups typically target everyday household commodities and consumer items that can be easily sold through fencing operations, flea markets, swap meets and shady store-front operations. Items that are routinely stolen include over-the-counter drug products, such as analgesics and cold medications, razor blades, camera film, batteries, videos, DVDs, CDs, smoking cessation products, infant formula and computer software items. Thieves often travel from retail store to retail store, and from state to state, stealing relatively small amounts of goods from each store, but cumulatively stealing significant amounts of goods. Once stolen, these products can be sold back to fencing operations, which can dilute, alter and repackage the goods and then resell them, sometimes back to the same stores from which the products were originally stolen.

When a product does not travel through the authorized channels of distribution, there is an increased risk that the product has been altered, diluted, reproduced and/or repackaged. These so-called ``diverted products'' pose significant health risks to the public, especially the diverted medications and food products. Diverted products also cause considerable financial losses for legitimate manufacturers and retailers. Ultimately, the consumers bear the brunt of these losses as retail establishments are forced to raise prices to cover the additional costs of security and theft prevention measures.

At the State level, organized retail theft crimes are normally prosecuted under state shoplifting statutes as mere misdemeanors. As a result, the thieves that participate in organized retail theft rings typically receive the same punishment as common shoplifters. The thieves who are convicted usually see very limited jail time or are placed on probation. I believe that the punishment does not fit the crime in these situations. Mere slaps on the wrists of these criminals has practically no deterrent effect. In addition, criminals who are involved in organized retail theft rings pose greater risks to the public because their intent is for the goods to be resold. Because the routes of these diverted products are extremely difficult to trace, there is a greater risk that these goods will be faulty, outdated and dangerous for consumer use. The punishment for these interstate crimes should be greater than that for common shoplifters.

In December 2003, in response to growth of ORT crimes, the FBI established an organized retail theft initiative. While this is a good start, much work needs to be done to combat this problem.

The amendment incorporated into H.R. 3402 will earmark resources for DOJ to address ORT crimes to ensure that these crimes receive the appropriate attention. Specifically, this amendment creates a Federal definition of organized retail theft crimes, and authorizes $5 million for each of the next three fiscal years for educating and training Federal law enforcement regarding these crimes, as well as for investigating, apprehending and prosecuting individuals engaged in these crimes. In addition, this amendment directs the FBI to consult with the private sector in order to construct a database, housed in the private sector, where retail establishments, as well as Federal, State, and local law enforcement can compile evidence on specific organized retail theft crimes to aid investigations and prosecutions. Often, a lack of information about the interstate nature of these crimes prevents federal law enforcement from getting involved in these cases. This database will help put the pieces together to show the organized and multi-state nature of these crimes, as well as provide important evidence for prosecutions.

I want to thank Chairman SENSENBRENNER for his willingness to address organized retail theft crimes in this important authorizing legislation, and I look forward to continuing to work to combat these serious crimes.


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