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22 Cab Drivers Arrested in Undercover Police Operation

Seattle Post Intelligencer via YellowBrix

July 23, 2010

SEATTLE – Nearly two dozen taxi drivers were arrested or targeted by police Thursday after investigators say a months-long investigation showed they were trafficking stolen goods in downtown Seattle.

The effort, dubbed Operation Yellow Jacket, lasted at least 10 weeks and targeted what police said was an open-air market for stolen goods in the Westlake Avenue area.

The operation was launched by the department’s Major Crimes Task Force to address what police described Thursday night as significant increases in retail theft.

Surveillance showed shoplifters were taking stolen property to a cab stand near the Westin Hotel and peddling it to the drivers gathered there waiting for fares, according to police. Investigators said they filmed suspects breaking security tags off merchandise in front of the drivers.

An undercover detective posed as a shoplifter who walked past the cab stand with bags of merchandise until he was hailed over by drivers, a department spokesman said. Police said the taxi drivers purchased items from the undercover detective after being told they were stolen, and placed orders for other goods they wanted.

There are roughly 2,500 licensed taxi drivers in the Seattle area, and police say there is no evidence drivers other than the 22 targeted took part in criminal activity, nor are all the drivers at the location involved.

Investigators also clarified that no evidence suggests criminal wrongdoing by the owner of any particular taxi or involvement of a taxi association.

Charging decisions are expected late this week or early next week.

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said Operation Yellow Jacket was separate from an investigation earlier this year into a downtown cigar and tobacco store where police suspected two employees of trafficking stolen goods.

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