One SoCal woman allegedly netted $8 million by selling shoplifted cosmetics on Amazon, while a San Jose operation reportedly made a mint reselling stolen TJ Maxx items at flea markets, as organized retail theft operations become more ruthlessly organized.

Do you sometimes shop on Amazon because you can find great deals? And are you frustrated with the chronic shoplifting that leads to retail items being locked up in stores? You might want to sit down for the news that these two phenomena may be directly related.

An exhaustive new CNBC investigation into organized retail shoplifting shows that some shoplifters work for highly sophisticated operations, with one of them making $8 million on Amazon selling stolen goods to unsuspecting online shoppers.

The CliffsNotes version of the report is in the video segment above, but CNBC was embedded with the California Highway Patrol’s organized retail theft program for eight months. They found that yes, many shoplifters are just homeless or mentally ill. But others are part of large, ruthlessly efficient operations that go to great lengths to conceal that the goods are stolen.

“We’re talking about operations that have fleets of trucks, 18-wheelers that have palletized loads of stolen goods, that have cleaning crews that actually clean the goods to make them look brand new,” Homeland Security Operations assistant special agent Adam Parks told CNBC. "Just like any business, they’ve invested their capital into business assets like shrink wrap machines, forklifts."

The report details how these operations work with three levels of staff. There are the “boosters,” the retail thieves themselves who steal the loot. There are also recruiters of thieves, who can also act as middlemen to move the goods to shady online resellers. And then there are the kingpins, whom law enforcement call “fencers,” and CNBC says they resell the items “at a margin Wall Street could only dream of.”

CNBC observed one operation in New Orleans, where undercover agents staked out some Walgreens and CVS stores that experienced as many as 20-30 shoplifting incidents per day. But they didn’t arrest anyone, they just watched the thieves, and followed them out of the stores to see what they did next.

One suspect they observed pulled a bag out of his pants and filled it with 17 jars of nail polish. Per CNBC, he left the store and then “sold the nail polish to a security guard” at the New Orleans Public Library. Are the security guards in on it, too? That’s probably a one-off, but who knows how many one-offs there are out there.

Here in the Bay Area, CNBC was with California Highway Patrol (CHP) San Jose officers when they raided what that outlet calls an “innocuous single-family home with Christmas decorations out front” — one of five locations at which suspected San Jose ring was storing mountains of stolen goods. Officers found “dozens of discarded clothing tags, anti-theft devices, hangers and other retail store detritus” in the property’s yard, and seized “enough suspected stolen merchandise to fill three 20-foot-long U-Haul trucks.”

The items were generally jugs of liquid detergent, Gillette razors, and Olay moisturizer, which CHP had been tracking since they were stolen from TJ Maxx and various drug stores. That case is still being prosecuted, but the suspects are accused of reselling the items to larger-scale fencers, or simply at the Capitol Flea Market in San Jose.

The Capitol Flea Market did not return a request for comment. But large flea markets seem to be another lucrative front for these operations to move hot merchandise.

And then we have the case of Michelle Mack, the accused ringleader of a shoplifting ring investigators dubbed the “California Girls.” Mack is alleged to have run a 11-state shoplifting ring out of her luxury San Diego home, paying the airfare and travel expenses of a team of shoplifters directed to steal cosmetics and other items from Bloomingdale’s, Prada, Sunglass Hut and more.

Mack operated an Amazon shop called Online Makeup Store, which between 2012 and 2023 sold cosmetics and retail goods at around half their normal cost. Prosecutors say Mack netted $8 million selling stolen goods over that period, and $1.89 million in 2022 alone.

CNBC was there for the raid of Mack’s home, where they say she had “shelves and shelves of beauty products, sunglasses and designer bags organized in neat bins and categorized by product.”

“This is a multimillion-dollar criminal scheme. It was complex. It was orchestrated,” state AG Rob Bonta said when announcing against Mack. charges. “We are not talking about garden-variety shoplifting.”

And the retail companies are on to the fact that large online sales platforms are playing a role in organized retail theft, through they are reticent to mention Amazon by name.

“There’s an ease of distribution that has become even more prevalent for stolen goods through online marketplaces,” Ulta Beauty CEO Dave Kimbel told CNBC.

“You used to have to sell stolen goods at flea markets or out of the trunk of your car or maybe just locally,” he added. “Now, you have more sophisticated tools to have a broader reach across the country or even internationally.”

Congress passed the Inform Consumers Act last summer, which requires the online platforms to verify information on third-party sellers. But it didn’t stop Mack’s operation, which worked in full view of Inform Consumers Act compliance.

Related: Two New SF Proposals Target Resale Markets Where Shoplifting Rings Sell Their Stuff [SFist]

Image: California Highway Patrol