Baltimore police raided six businesses last night and charged an East Baltimore grocery owner and three other people with theft in what investigators are calling a "major shoplifting and fencing ring."
Police spokesman Dennis S. Hill said the operation involved the weekly theft of thousands of cartons of cigarettes, liquor and meat from major supermarkets, including Giant Food and Mars, some as far away as Western Maryland and Northern Virginia.
The stolen goods were fenced to five grocery stores and a bar in Baltimore, police said.
The investigation that led to last night's raids began two months ago when Giant Food security officials alerted Baltimore police to the thefts. Police brought in the Maryland office of the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Investigators discovered a ring including teams of shoplifters who robbed supermarkets and sold the stolen goods at below-wholesale prices to small businesses, which sold them to customers at a profit.
City undercover officers bought stolen goods from some of the six businesses raided last night, including cartons of cigarettes, which were stamped with Giant, Mars and other supermarket names and out-of-state tax stamps, as well as meat and liquor.
The raided businesses were Jin's Grocery, 666 Cokesbury St.; the Homewood Food Market, 735 E. 22nd St.; Al's Tavern, 2701 Miles Ave.; Sam and Angie's, 2701 Huntington Ave.; Ron's Market, 2745 Miles Ave.; and Valencia's Confectionary & Deli, 2658 Miles Ave.
Arrested during the raids were Jin's owner Young Man Kim, 48, of the 2100 block of Suburban Greens Drive in Baltimore County, charged with one count of theft of more than $300 and conspiracy to commit theft of more than $300, and To Il A, 51, of the 3900 block of Pinedale Drive in Baltimore County, charged with one count of theft of more than $300.
Police said more arrests were expected.
Earlier yesterday, two men and two women believed to be involved with the theft ring were arrested after a traffic stop at 31st Street and Hillen Road, police said.
A search of their vehicle netted an undisclosed number of cigarette cartons police believe had been stolen and four packets of heroin.
Police identified the four as Bruce L. Cox, 32, of the 2700 block of Creston Road, charged with one count of possession of heroin, theft of more than $300 and conspiracy to commit theft of more than $300; Randall Therit, 29, of the 7800 block of Aiken Avenue in Baltimore County, charged with one count of possession of heroin, theft of more than $300 and conspiracy to commit theft of more than $300; Jill Cox, 31, of the first block of Harwood Road, charged with one count of possession of heroin; and Carol Jorgenson, 37, of the 1300 block of Airlie Way in Baltimore County, charged with one count of possession of heroin.
Police said the businesses that were raided were known as places that bought stolen goods. "It became known on the street that these [stores] were the places that you could sell these goods at," said Mr. Hill.
"Word traveled fast."
Word of the police raid also traveled fast last night, and disgruntled customers and community residents gathered at FTC Jin's Grocery to laugh, cheer and chant as city police arrested Mr. Kim and led him out of his store in handcuffs.
A police officer, bemused at the vocal support for the raid, quipped: "We'll take it where we can get it."
After a police wagon drove off with Mr. Kim, the crowd chanted, "We want more, we want more."
Several residents said they grew suspicious in recent months at the almost daily sight of white strangers driving into the majority black neighborhood, parking in front of the store and hauling large, bulky trash bags inside.