A weeks-long investigation into an organized retail crime ring led lawmen to seven suspects and hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen goods in what authorities say is the first case of its kind in Alabama.

“Organized retail crime is a huge problem throughout the U.S.,” said Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls.

Those already arrested on theft charges are Nichole Battle, William Mason Jr., Alfred Williams, George Bryant and Carl Humphrey. Two others are still at large.
The probe began when area investigators notice area burglaries going unsolved, and at the same time they were approached by retailers from several big-name stores seeing what they believed was a shoplifting ring. They were able to develop an informant and the probe ballooned.

Dubbed Operation Molten Iron, the effort was led and carried out by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office White Collar Division, the Vestavia Hills Police Department, the Birmingham Police Department and investigators from CVS, Home Depot, Publix, Target, Walgreen’s and Walmart where they had been witnessing some popular items disappearing from their shelves.

Falls said basically items were being stolen, stored and then sold, much like drug operations. The items were then sold at flea markets throughout Alabama, as well as some convenience stores.

To further the investigation, those stores provided merchandise to be used in the undercover operations. Investigators also “allowed” other merchandise to be stolen so they could follow the trail. In all, $55,000 worth of stolen or “loaned” merchandise was used.

The goal of the probe was to identify those responsible for theft of merchandise at the retail level, and to uncover the destination of the stolen merchandise as well as those buying the stolen goods. During

Operation Molten Iron, officers and agents spread out over multiple locations throughout Jefferson County. During that time period they recovered vehicles and merchandise valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Falls said. At one location they also found about 15 pounds of marijuana.

The items ranged from high-dollar lawn equipment to shaving cream and razors, Falls said. Some of the items were stolen off store shelves one or two at a time, such as more expensive tools, while others were taken in warehouse heists. “At one home we found a 5-foot tall set of shrink-wrapped shaving cream in someone’s living room, two deep and two wide,” Falls said. “People were going to flea markets and getting $2,300 lawn equipment items for $700.”

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