AUBURN – A Lewiston mother used her 10-year-old stepdaughter Wednesday to steal a cart loaded with merchandise, police said.
If that weren’t enough, the mother used the girl to commit the same act at the same store on Tuesday, according to police, but was not caught.
So, Kimberly Labbe, 22, returned to Wal-Mart Wednesday with her stepdaughter and did it again, said Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell. This time she was caught, police said.
Labbe was not arrested, but was charged with two counts of theft, Crowell said.
The 10-year-old girl has not been charged with any juvenile crimes. “We’re handling that in-house,” Crowell said. He explained that the girl will undergo counseling and education by the Auburn Police Department, and the department may make referrals to other agencies for services. “We’ll be helping her through this process.”
Meanwhile Auburn police are referring the case to child protection workers at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Crowell said.
Crowell explained that when Labbe was at Wal-Mart on Wednesday, “She basically filled her cart up, and had her daughter exit Wal-Mart.” Labbe went out a different exit with her 3-year-old and an infant. After the little girl pushed the loaded cart out the door, “The plan was to exit the story and meet at the car.”
When the little girl was stopped, “She had a story,” Crowell said. “They had decided ahead of time what to say if caught.”
Police estimate that the cart had about $450 worth of merchandise, mostly diapers and clothes.
After the same thing happened Tuesday, Crowell said Labbe and her stepdaughter “came back in today. Wal-Mart security recognized them, then started their surveillance.” Store security personnel “were a little surprised” to see them return and attempt the same style theft two days in a row, the chief said.
If Labbe had not attempted the same kind of theft Wednesday, it’s likely that she would have gotten away with Tuesday’s stealing, police said.
Shoplifting is common, “but using a child is not one we see very often,” Crowell said. “Obviously this is one of those situations where you have to feel terrible for this young 10-year old to be put in this situation. She knew right from wrong,” but she had her stepmother instructing her on how they were going to shoplift.
Using a child to steal “to me, it’s worse than a regular theft,” Crowell said. “It takes a desperate person to put their child in that type of situation.” The case is sad, he said, “when when you think about the parenting and what kind of role model (Labbe is) for this 10-year-old girl.”
A Wal-Mart corporate spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that the theft “did take place in our store,” said Marisa Bluestone. The retailer has procedures in place to protect its property, she said. When asked why Labbe was able to walk out the door Tuesday with stolen goods, Bluestone said it’s not Wal-Mart’s policy to follow suspicious shoppers off the property, but the store does gather description information to share with police.
Wal-Mart shoppers loading carts and walking out the door without paying is a growing problem for the world’s largest retailer, according to a recent Associated Press story. Public disclosures show that Wal-Mart is experiencing so-called shrinkage at its U.S. stores, suggesting merchandise losses are due to shoplifting, employee theft, paperwork errors and supplier fraud.
Experts estimate the losses may rise to more than $3 billion for Wal-Mart, which had $348 billion in sales last year, according to retail consultant Burt Flickinger III, the Associated Press reported.
Shoplifting “is more of an industry problem than a Wal-Mart one,” Wal-Mart spokesman Bluestone said Wednesday.
Auburn police said they don’t yet know the value of the merchandise Labbe’s stepdaughter allegedly wheeled out the door Tuesday. Based on the store’s surveillance video footage, the load was similar to Wednesday’s. “The cart was full,” Crowell said.
Crowell said it did not appear that Labbe had a criminal history.