Pair of GOP bills seeks to crack down on 'flash mob' robberies, stolen products sold online

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MADISON,  Wis. (CBS 58) -- State lawmakers want tougher penalties for those who participate in coordinated shoplifting incidents, often called 'flash mob' robberies, and are seeking to combat the online sale of stolen products.

There's been a surge in smash-and-grab "flash mob" robberies at luxury stores across the nation, but also locally in southeast Wisconsin.

About a dozen times a year, Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley said, they deal with aggressive retail thefts similar to the incident in 2019 at the Pleasant Prairie outlet mall.

On July 1, a group of 10 individuals raided the North Face store and stole over $30,000 in items -- all within 15 seconds.

The Republican-authored bill seeks to allow prosecutors to impose stiffer penalties on those who partake in coordinated shoplifting events.

However, the bill doesn't actually give district attorneys any new tools to do so, instead it raises awareness to encourage officials to prosecute these crimes more seriously.

"To me, the value of the statute is not that it adds a tool that doesn't exist now, but that it highlights what is a very significant problem in places like Kenosha," Graveley said. “These are coordinated groups of people often coming from outside the community who have a job that day to professionally steal things from our merchants.”

The video surveillance of the incident at Pleasant Prairie mall went viral within days. That's what helped the DA's office and local police eventually arrest seven of the men involved in the flash mob robbery.

Graveley said he used the tools outlined in the GOP bill to hold those individuals accountable. Graveley and Democrats acknowledge the proposal won't change much, but they support the concept of educating the public and prosecutors about the issue.

The proposal recently passed the state Assembly, 59-33, but the Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

"Anything that brings attention to something as terrible as this is good," said Rep. Tip McGuire (D-Kenosha). "But to pass a bill to bring attention to it, I think, creates missed opportunities."

McGuire believes the Legislature should have instead passed Attorney General Josh Kaul's $115 million 'safer Wisconsin' package aimed at reducing crime and supporting communities.

Republicans are unlikely to bring those bills up for a vote during an election year to avoid giving Kaul a victory.

Another Republican bill that recently gained bipartisan support aimed to crack down on stolen goods being sold online.

McGuire voted in favor of the proposal, which would establish more stringent identification requirements for anyone who sells a "high volume" of products online.

Big box retailers blame Amazon and other platforms for making money off their stolen products.

"If you are a high-volume seller on Amazon, you would have to provide some kernel of information to them," said McGuire. "In the past, you could just be doing this anonymously and you could just walk away."

The bill passed the Assembly last month and now heads the Senate for consideration.

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