Police said more than 40 businesses were the victims of this criminal operation, which netted more than $2 million worth of merchandise, including everything from electronics, to fur coats, to designer jeans.
The alleged thieves were seen on surveillance video using stolen vehicles to crash into businesses before racing from the scene with merchandise. The two-year-long crime spree, police say, was the work of South Side gang members.
"Instead of selling drugs and engaging in the types of violent crimes normally associated with street gangs, this particular crew has focused on burglarizing these high-end consumer retail stores and boutiques," said Cmdr. Eugene Roy, Chicago Police Dept.
Police announced Tuesday the arrests of four Chicago men: Kenneth C. Greene, 23; Jawon Sellers, 24; Tommie Adams, 22; and Hershel Phillips, 18. Police also arrested an unnamed juvenile, and identified four more men being sought: Kendrick Adams, 21; James Erwin, 34; Deonte Johnson, 22; and Michael Thomas, 26.
Dozens may have been involved in the more than 40 alleged burglaries in Chicago, the suburbs and other parts of the Midwest. The retailers targeted range from big box stores, to high-end Gold Coast boutiques and mom-and-pop businesses on the South and West Sides. At a Louis Vuitton store in Northbrook, sledgehammers were used to break the glass after the car didn't make it through.
"Two years ago these offenders started by using crowbars and other hand tools to smash the glass windows of the targeted stores, and when the business community responded with better security measures, or as we call it "hardening the target", this crew resorted to using stolen vehicles to literally drive through the doorways of these targeted stores," said Chief John Escalante, Chicago Police Dept.
Police say the break in the case came after a Dec. 10 burglary at Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue. Two alleged thieves were arrested after becoming trapped in the vehicle.
Information and evidence gathered from that incident lead to Tuesday's announcement, police said.
"Criminals are criminals. They're looking for a way to make money, and they're looking for an easy way to make money," Roy said.
Police said much of the stolen merchandise was sold on the black market for a fraction of what the items were worth and they will likely never be recovered.