July 26, 2010— -- A ring of Seattle taxi drivers did more than provide rides around the city, prosecutors claimed as they charged 22 cabbies with running a stolen property trafficking ring.
The cabbies were busted in a sting dubbed "Operation Yellow Jacket," according to court documents. The sting and the subsequent arrests took place over the course of 10 weeks.
The Seattle Police Department's Major Crimes Task Force began the investigation after receiving complaints, which date back to 2006, from the community and retail businesses about suspects involved in trafficking stolen goods, police records state. The documents state that the suspects received items stolen from several businesses, from burglaries as well as from car break-ins.
The undercover sting targeted cab drivers working out of the taxi stand as well as three parking attendants at the adjacent "I-Park" parking facility, officials said.
Detective Renee Witt, the Seattle Police Department's spokeswoman, said Operation Yellow Jacket included undercover detectives selling purportedly stolen property to taxi cab drivers. Each time a transaction took place, the cab drivers were told that the items had been stolen, she said. Witt said some of the merchandise even had store tags and anti-theft devices still on them.
Over the 10 weeks, police said 40 undercover sales were made to 22 cab drivers and three parking lot attendants who worked next to the cab stand. Several of the drivers allegedly told the undercover detectives, "I'll take everything you can get," Witt said.
After a few transactions one taxi driver began using cocaine as payment for the stolen property, according to a statement from the Seattle Police Department on the arrests.
The police department said numerous transactions were documented by surveillance video of the taxi stand which recorded the suspected shoplifters and other alleged thieves walking by the taxi stand several times a day with bags filled with suspected stolen merchandise. These suspects would then sell the items in the bags to the taxi cab drivers, who were aware that the merchandise had been stolen, police said.
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The police did not say what the accused drivers allegedly did with the purported stolen merchandise.
"What the cabbies did with the stuff whether that was keeping it for themselves or giving it to family members as gifts or reselling it is still being investigated, and if they did resell it Seattle Police Department will initiate enhanced sentencing," Witt said.
Witt told ABC News the drives face charges ranging from felonies to misdemeanors, including possession of stolen property to trafficking of stolen property. The seriousness of the charges depended on the specific involvement of allegedly stolen property each driver was accused of buying.
The cabbies could not be reached for comment. David Hocraffer of Seattle's Defenders Association said official charges have yet to be filed against the drivers, so they haven't yet entered pleas.
"There isn't much information on the case as yet, since it just occurred on Friday and no charges have been filed," Hocraffer told ABC News.
Police said some of the businesses that had been targeted by thieves included The Westin Hotel and a Nordstrom department store. A spokeswoman from Nordstrom, Tara Darrow, told ABC News, "As one of several downtown retailers impacted by this crime ring, we are glad that we were able to support the Seattle Police Department in their investigation."
The taxi cab drivers involved were independent operators of the cab stand and police said there was no evidence to suggest this criminal activity extends to the owner of any cab company or any taxi association.
A person who answered the phone at the taxi stand declined to identify himself, but said, "I know there were a couple of cab drivers that were arrested from lots of cab companies. I have no idea if they were guilty of having any stolen items."
The management at "I-Park" said they were unaware that three attendants were involved and declined to comment any further.