I-Team: Police Bust Swap Meet Vendors - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Police Bust Swap Meet Vendors

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Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.
Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.
Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.
Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.
Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. Photo Courtesy: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.

LAS VEGAS -- Half a dozen vendors working at the largest outdoor swap meet are facing felony charges after being busted by a law enforcement task force. The lawmen raided the Broadacres Marketplace, looking for vendors who might be selling stolen property and they had no shortage of suspects.

Broadacres Marketplace, formerly known as Broadacres Swap Meet, has hundreds of vendors who sell just about anything you can imagine to an estimated 30,000 locals who visit every weekend.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department received tips from local retailers that some of what was being sold at the swap meet had been boosted from local stores by organized rings of thieves. Did the vendors know they were selling stolen goods? It's a trick question.

The wads of seized money pretty much explain why swap meet vendors would risk selling stolen goods right out in the open. It is immensely profitable. During a Friday night gathering at Broadacres, a few dozen officers, including undercover operatives, swooped into the swap meet to serve search warrants on six of the most egregious offenders.

SLIDESHOW: Vendors Arrested for Allegedly Selling Stolen Goods

"They knew what they were doing, and it was only a matter of time before they got caught, but they were very surprised we apprehended them on that day," said Metro Sgt. Will Seifert.

He is the point man for a multi-agency task force created to go after retail theft rings that have targeted more than 90 percent of local stores. Thieves brazenly strike everything from big box stores to supermarkets, sell the stolen goods to fences for reduced prices. The middlemen sell to vendors like those at the swap meet, who then offer great discounts on brand new merchandise.

"You will see somebody with 20 bottles of Head and Shoulders or 20 bottles of Ride displayed for a price that you and I know as consumers we can't buy in a retail environment at that low of a price," Seifert said. "So that is when you have to ask yourself, where did these folks get these items from?"

Lawmen get curious when they see swap meet vendors selling new brand name merchandise, everything from shampoos and toiletries to diapers and laundry detergent, to huge buckets of paint. Officers roped off, then boxed up the goods at six vendor stands.  Also among the items seized were expensive women's undergarments which still carried the price tags from the stores where they were stolen. The task force is just getting started, but already sees how big the problem is.

"An operation coming up on six months now, as a full-time team. In that time, we have arrested over 100 people for this, and they were responsible for about $400,000 in the valley, conservatively," Seifert said.

Large-scale retail theft has become sophisticated in recent years, and because the thieves have grown so violent, stores are reluctant to confront suspected shoplifters. They leave it to police, who have been busting thieves in order to find their fences. Seifert is confident the six suspects arrested at Broadacres knew for certain they were selling stolen goods because much of the merchandise seized during the raid was purchased from undercover officers.

"We were up front with them, told them that these items were stolen. They still purchased them and later tried to resell them at their stands," he said.

"Five of the six are what they call long-term vendors, which means they didn't just buy a space that week," Seifert said.

Retail theft is like a hidden tax on everyone and raises the price of almost everything consumers buy. It is also tough on those honest vendors at places like Broadacres who find it tough to compete against the bargain prices on stolen goods.

It isn't the first time search warrants have been served at local swap meets. In previous years, the focus was on counterfeit goods which resulted in a multi-million dollar hauls in 2006 and 2010 and an arrest for stolen property in 2009.

Owner Greg Danz bought the swap meet in 2007 and has invested millions in expansion, including an entertainment center. A year ago, he got the okay from North Las Vegas officials to open on Friday nights. Seifert says police will be meeting with Danz about how the marketplace can do a better job of excluding vendors who sell what appears to be stolen goods. The ones busted in the recent raid are not newcomers.

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