Major Highline-Area Shoplifting Ring Busted By Joint Local Police Task Force

by Ralph Nichols

Kingpins and operatives in a major shoplifting ring responsible for stealing millions of dollars in merchandise from Normandy Park, Burien and White Center stores have been taken off the streets by local law enforcement officers.

The year-long criminal investigation was conducted by a special Burien-Normandy Park police task force and the King County Sheriff’s Office, working in close cooperation with retail theft and loss prevention personnel.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg announced May 19 that Chanthou Rim, 38, and Sara Kong, 40, have been charged with 11 counts of attempted trafficking in stolen property, attempted possession of stolen property, and conspiracy to commit organized retail theft.

Also charged with criminal solicitation, Rim and Kong, who have a SeaTac address, allegedly used “thieves to enter retail grocery and other stores to steal merchandise,” according to prosecutor’s charging papers.

Rim, Kong and eight other alleged members of the shoplifting ring were arrested last Oct. 4. Rim and Kong face between four to five years in prison if convicted.

“It was an extremely successful [law enforcement] operation,” Burien Police Sgt. Henry McLauchlan told The B-Town Blog. “We have been working on this case to close up loose ends since then, including working with the prosecutor’s office.”

Elements of the investigation remain ongoing.

Satterberg said dozens of shoplifters worked for the ring – some stealing nearly $1,000 worth of products off store shelves each day and allegedly selling the stolen merchandise to Rim and Kong for money to support their heroin addictions.

An estimated $5 million of merchandise was stolen from store shelves in South King County alone. McLauchlan said the shoplifting ring extended throughout King County – “north county, south county, east county, west county, everywhere.”

Satterberg added, “What we are talking about today are people who direct armies of shoplifters.” This ring and another similar operation in King County, which was also broken, represent just a fraction of an enormous regional and national problem.

Many of the stolen retail items were illegally exported to Cambodia, often smuggled in cars being shipped there, he noted.

McLauchlan said police departments in South King County were notified by regional Safeway management last year that their stores in the area “were experiencing extreme thefts, and that they had developed potential information about a potential shoplifting ring.”

Both Burien and Normandy Park police “started independent investigations related to the shoplifting ring … once it was determined that they were running parallel investigations” the two departments formed a joint task force.

This marked the first time McLauchlan can recall when officers and detectives from these police departments, theft and loss prevention managers from large retail stores, and the King County Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor’s Office worked together in a major investigation.

The long-term investigation, which included undercover operations, involved surveillance that resulted in “watching them steal from stores, then sell to the main fence … and the transportation and delivery of stolen property. All of this resulted in multiple arrest and search warrants.”

Beyond disrupting the shoplifting ring, police “established a task force relationship between Burien and Normandy Park, bringing both agencies closer together, as well as working with the retail theft and loss prevention folks and developing a good relationship with them.”

And the Burien-Normandy Park task force was “extended through the King County Sheriff’s Office,” McLauchlan added.

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