The women, ages 27 and 29, “have been cooperating, so we are going to allow them to turn themselves in,” said Capt. Mark Bennett of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department.
Their names were not released pending arraignment on retail fraud charges.
The 29-year-old woman faces a charge of first-degree retail fraud, which is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
The 27-year-old woman faces a charge of second-degree retail fraud, which is a misdemeanor carrying a jail sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $2,000.
Both women have criminal histories, Bennett said.
Police caught up with the women on July 23 after they fled the Leppink’s grocery store on 174th Avenue in Ferrysburg. Employees recognized them from surveillance video as being the same women who stole several hundred dollars worth of alcohol from the store the previous evening.
Clerks restocking the store discovered empty boxes shoved back in the shelves, alerting them to the problem. A check of surveillance video revealed the women stuffed the bottles into their purses and walked out of the store the previous night.
After realizing that they had been identified by store employees, the women left without taking any alcohol on July 23, Bennett said.
The detective said the women are also suspects in thefts of alcohol from the D&W Fresh Market store in Grand Haven.
Norton Shores Police Chief Dan Shaw said the same two women have also come across his department’s radar. He said the 29-year-old woman was arrested for retail fraud on June 13 and the 27-year-old woman was arrested Aug. 20 for organized retail fraud. Both cases were from the Meijer store on Norton Avenue and both were related to the larceny of liquor.
“We have thefts of liquor products nearly every day — so yes, it’s a problem,” Shaw said. “People are stealing liquor from stores and then selling the product to people, or possibly other stores for cash (aka organized retail fraud).”
Bennett said this type of crime seems to be a recent phenomenon. He reported previously that thieves would use the money from selling the liquor at reduced rates to purchase drugs.
The detective said the Sheriff’s Department is cooperating with other agencies in order to get more information for the case.
In some cases, thieves are grabbing carts full of higher-end liquor and just pushing it out the door, Bennett said. Jen VanSkiver said she witnessed such a theft while shopping with her daughter at the D&W store in Cascade in early August.
“When I realized what was happening, I alerted the staff person who followed him into the parking lot and captured his license plate number,” VanSkiver said. “I believe they reported it to the police.”
Leppink’s officials said they had security measures in place, but have changed some of their operations since the thefts.