7 arrested in $5 million shoplifting scam

Multiple agencies team up in two-year investigation

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Douglas County authorities say they have arrested the seven ringleaders involved in a shoplifting and money-laundering scam, capping off a two-year investigation.

During a June 1 press conference, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said the scheme is one of the “largest in Colorado history.” The seven suspects face a combined 78 charges, including money laundering and theft. They also face federal charges for allegedly using the U.S. Postal Service to ship stolen goods.

Spurlock said more than $5.2 million in goods were stolen from local retailers including Safeway, King Soopers, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Ulta Beauty and Sephora. An estimated $1.7 million in stolen good was recovered.

Spurlock said the department started investigating the suspected multimillion-dollar laundering scheme in 2019 after police chiefs and local authorities in Douglas County approached him about increases in retail theft.

Spurlock said with cooperating agencies and help from local retailers, the sheriff’s department formed the Financial Investigative Regional Strike Team (FIRST) to track stolen goods. Allegedly, suspects would steal items from Douglas County retailers and take the product to a facility in Aurora where the items were sold online at a cheaper price and shipped by mail.

Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley said he was one of the first to come forward, seeing an increase in retail theft at the Outlets at Castle Rock along with other major retailers in town.

Cauley said retail theft is a major concern in Castle Rock because the community relies heavily on sales tax dollars. When more than $5 million in goods are stolen, Cauley said residents of Castle Rock and Douglas County pay the price.

Common goods being stolen for the alleged resale included vitamins, cosmetics, birth control and tools from local hardware stores, Spurlock said.

In April, after executing a search warrant at the suspected headquarters in Aurora, Spurlock said authorities recovered more than 30,000 stolen items, 80 pounds in silver, $100,000 in gold, $108,000 in cash and numerous cell phones.

The suspects were later indicted by a grand jury. Spurlock said the seven suspects are from Eastern European countries and are in the U.S. legally. The seven arrested are Grigore Tataru, Dzianis Artyushkevich, Ivan Biazliudau, Ilona Nastas, Evgeny Shadrin, Diziana Altshuler and Dmitry Altshuler.

Spurlock said the success of the investigation would not have been possible if it were not for the cooperation from some of the area’s largest retailers. The companies provided resources to track identification numbers of stolen goods, he said.

In a prepared, combined statement, retailers said, “The crime of retail theft impacts not only large and small businesses, but consumers looking for value when they shop. Retail crime can be devastating to businesses of all sizes. The loss of merchandise and threats to staff all have a negative impact on our businesses and our customers.”

Law enforcement and other organizations participating in the investigation included Lone Tree police, Castle Rock police, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Service, Aurora police, Denver police and U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Retailers taking part were Albertsons/Safeway, Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Ulta, Sephora, King Soopers, Whole Foods and Sprouts.

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