Every morning at about 9 o’clock as many as 50 Chilean nationals gather in a 24-hour restaurant in Washington Heights and, over coffee, talk about business. Their business takes them on the road and they notify each other of where they will be working so they won’t cover the same territory. Then, climbing into their cars, they are off to their work – shoplifting.
Law enforcement authorities say they are a few of the well over one thousand South Americans – Chileans, Colombians and Peruvians who have become increasingly skilled at and now devote full time to shoplifting, netting as much as $1,000 each on a good day for about four hours work.
Although shoplifting is estimated by the United States Department of Commerce to cost stores up to $5 billion a year in this country, most of it is done by amateur thieves – teenagers out on a spree or kleptomaniacs who cannot resist taking something without paying for it. The emergence of the South American ring marks a new trend toward organized professional shoplifting.
excerpt from David Bird NYT 11/27/77