TRENTON –Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that a Cumberland County woman pleaded guilty today to leading an organized retail theft ring that shoplifted thousands of dollars in merchandise at stores in South Jersey, returning the items for gift cards, which were pawned for cash.
Chiara K. Pender, 30, of Millville, N.J., pleaded guilty to a second-degree charge of leader of an organized retail theft enterprise before Superior Court Judge John T. Kelley in Camden County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Pender be sentenced to five years in state prison. She will be required to pay full restitution for the losses sustained by the stores that were targeted.
A second defendant, Thareick Archer, 26 of Vineland, N.J., who participated in Pender’s theft ring, pleaded guilty today before Judge Kelley to fourth-degree receiving stolen property. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to 18 months in prison. Pender and Archer are scheduled to be sentenced on May 26.
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Keating prosecuted the defendants and took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. The charges stem from an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Interstate Theft South Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice, assisted by loss prevention personnel from TJX Corporation, Lowes Corporation, and Target Corporation.
The theft ring targeted various stores in South Jersey, including Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Target, Walmart, Home Goods, Lowes, Kohls, Burlington Coat Factory and Rite Aid. Pender recruited people into the ring and usually drove the ring members to the targeted stores. The thefts followed a consistent pattern. Once at the targeted store, Pender and her co-conspirators shoplifted items and left the store. The ring members stole clothing, electronics, and anything else of value that could easily be concealed. Pender would subsequently order one of her co-conspirators to re-enter the store to make a non-receipted return of the stolen merchandise, or she would drive them to another location for the same chain store to return the items. If the return was accepted, the store issued a gift card for the value of the merchandise. The value of the gift cards ranged from just over $100 to more than $600. Pender sold the gift cards at pawn shops for cash, typically receiving approximately half of the value of the store credit on the card. The investigation revealed that from January 2016 through June 2016, Pender and her co-conspirators stole more than $20,000 from the targeted stores using these methods.
“Organized retail theft is a multi-billion dollar drain on the retail industry caused by criminals like Pender who methodically steal from popular store chains,” said Attorney General Porrino. “These thieves think the worst they’ll face is a low-level shoplifting charge, but these guilty pleas reflect our resolve to put them in prison. We’ll continue to work closely with the industry to prosecute these criminal enterprises aggressively.”
“Working with the New Jersey State Police and the employees of the victim companies, we shut down this retail theft ring and we’re sending its leader to prison,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We want these thieves to know that we’re onto their tricks and we’re prepared to put them behind bars.”
“The losses that businesses suffer as a result of organized retail theft rings directly affect the everyday consumer, not just big businesses,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “This was an outstanding investigation by the State Police Interstate Theft South Unit and our partners, which led to today’s guilty pleas.”
The State Police arrested Pender on June 3, 2016. Other members of the ring were arrested in June and July of last year. Two other members of Pender’s theft ring pleaded guilty previously and are awaiting sentencing. Sharhonda D. Collins, 50, of Bridgeton, N.J., pleaded guilty to third-degree receiving stolen property. She faces a recommended sentence of three years in state prison under the plea agreement but has a pending application for the drug court program. Mark O. Rabb III, 30, of Millville, N.J., pleaded guilty to fourth-degree receiving stolen property and faces a recommended sentence of 30 days in jail.
Attorney General Porrino commended all of the attorneys, detectives and investigators who handled this case for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, the New Jersey State Police Interstate Theft South Unit, and the loss prevention departments of TJX Corporation, Lowes and Target.
Defense Attorney for Pender:
Margeau Ney, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, Camden County