New York authorities claim to have taken down an organised shoplifting ring that stole everything from luxury goods to toiletries, reaping millions of dollars and contributing to an atmosphere of lawlessness that has unsettled the city.

In a press conference, the New York attorney-general Letitia James and New York City mayor Eric Adams announced the indictment of 41 people on criminal charges, including possession of stolen property and money laundering, after a three-year investigation.

The ring was allegedly led by Roni Rubinov, owner of the New Liberty Loans Pawn Shop near Times Square, as well as a jewellery store. According to the indictment, Rubinov and a group of employees bought stolen goods on a daily basis from 30 low-level thieves who targeted high-end department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus as well as drug chains such as Duane Reade.

Rubinov allegedly paid as little as 6 to 8 per cent of the retail price for high-end clothing and then resold items through an eBay store called Treasure-Deals-USA. Authorities said they seized more than $3.8mn in stolen items from him, as well as 550 stolen gift cards and $300,000 in cash. They also accused him of fraudulently using other people’s food stamps.

A person who answered the phone at the pawnshop declined to comment, and declined to provide Rubinov’s whereabouts.

In a statement, James said the defendants had “cleared the shelves of drugstores in the community” and that the prosecution would help “restore an environment where all New Yorkers feel secure”.

Alongside rising shootings and disorder on the subway, rampant shoplifting has sown unease throughout New York City and hindered its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Business leaders have blamed it for the closure of retail stores and the loss of thousands of jobs. Expensive toiletries are now regularly kept under lock and key at drug stores.

Shoplifting has also become a scourge in other big cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

While some regard such theft as a crime of desperation that was worsened by the pandemic, Adams argued that Rubinov’s ring indicated otherwise.

“This case is so important because it highlights that this is not just shoplifting — this is organised crime,” the mayor, a former police captain, said. Shoplifting, he added, “erodes trust. It sends a signal that we are a city out of control.”

The mayor also blasted social media companies for not doing more to police criminal activity on their platforms, saying: “It’s time for social media giants to step up and stop putting profit over public safety.”

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