Shoplifters stole items from military exchanges in Virginia and Maryland more than 500 times last year, according to an investigation of military and court records by the News4 I-Team.
The thefts ranged from break-ins by criminals who smashed in doors and jewelry counters to insider thefts by military exchange employees and military members.
Military base and post exchanges offer retail shops with discounted prices exclusively to the military community. Retail items sold in the exchanges, which are housed on-site on U.S. military properties, are available to active-duty military members, retired personnel, National Guard members, Medal of Honor recipients and honorably discharged veterans. Many of the exchanges, including the Army exchange at Fort Meade in Maryland, are similar in size and appearance to a small shopping mall or indoor shopping center.
Army and Air Force Exchange Service and Navy Exchange service records obtained by the I-Team reveal local exchanges are frequently targeted by thieves. More than 200 thefts were reported at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia between 2014 and 2017, according to military records. The cases included dozens of thefts by employees. In a majority of cases, shoplifters are suspected. Court records reveal an August case, in which a woman was arrested for stealing six bottles of perfume, a Brahmin wallet and a Kate Spade purse.
Court records reveal a major theft at a Navy exchange in Norfolk in April 2016. Three men, none of whom was associated with the military, pleaded guilty to breaking into an exchange after hours. Surveillance footage obtained by the I-Team shows one of the men smash through a glass counter. According to court filings, the three men stole more than $44,000 in Rolex watches. The men eluded police, but were caught after trying to pawn the stolen items in North Carolina.
“We have to send a message that we’re going to protect federal facilities and the assets there,” said U.S. Attorney Dana Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, who prosecuted the Norfolk theft.
“Military exchanges have very expensive items for families in the service, to buy gifts," Boente said. "The integrity of the system is important, so people can count on it.”
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Security officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange service said the exchanges are secured with investigators and cameras to reduce the threat of thefts.
“We get shoplifters in my area on a daily basis,” said Mike Jones, who manages security for the Army exchange at Fort Meade in Maryland. “With most shoplifters, if they shoplift once, they’ll shoplift twice. If we don’t catch them the first time, we’ll catch them next time.”
Proceeds from military exchanges are used to fund military family and military facility programs, including base swimming pools, movie theaters and bowling alleys.
Court records reviewed by the I-Team show electronics, cosmetics and jewelry are among items most commonly stolen in recent exchange theft incidents in Virginia and Maryland.
A Navy spokeswoman said Navy exchange thefts led to more than $200,000 in losses nationwide in 2016.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane and shot and edited by Steve Jones.