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Operation “Yellow Jacket” a success

SEATTLE – Seattle Police detectives have arrested or are in the process of arresting 22 local taxi drivers for trafficking in stolen property in downtown Seattle.  The arrests are the culmination of a ten week undercover operation targeting an open air market for stolen goods that has been operating in the Westlake Avenue area.

The project, Operation Yellowjacket, was launched by the department’s Major Crimes Task Force to address significant increases in retail theft in the downtown core.  Surveillance showed that shoplifters were taking their stolen property to the cab stand just east of the Westin Hotel and peddling it to the drivers gathered there waiting for fares.  Prior to the operation, police filmed suspects breaking security tags off merchandise in front of the drivers.  Once the tags were off, the drivers completed the purchases.

The investigation employed an undercover detective posing as a shoplifter.  He would walk past the cab stand carrying shopping bags filled with new merchandise until he was hailed over by one or more drivers.  The taxi drivers often had the undercover detective get into the back of their cab where they would then go through the goods, selecting what they wanted.    The undercover detective made it clear to the drivers that the items he was selling were stolen.  In spite of this information the drivers not only purchased items but placed orders for specific items.

There are 2500 licensed taxi drivers in the greater Seattle area. There is no evidence that drivers at other cab stands took part in this criminal enterprise nor is there evidence to suggest that all drivers at this particular location were involved.  It is also important to point out that there is no evidence to suggest this criminal activity extends to the owner of any particular taxi cab or to suggest the involvement of any taxi association.

The suspects arrested are being booked into the King County Jail on a number of felony and misdemeanor charges.  Ultimate charging decisions will be made by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and the Office of the King County Prosecuting Attorney.