Organized retail crime fuels Iowa’s illicit fentanyl trade, Grassley says

During a roundtable conversation with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sen. Grassley highlighted the link between organized retail crime and drug distribution operations.


Jerod Ringwald

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, exits the stage after giving a reelection speech during a watch party for Iowa Republicans on Election Day at the Hilton Downtown in Des Moines on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Grassley won reelection and will serve an eight term in the U.S. Senate.

Liam Halawith, Politics Editor

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, emphasized the need for more legislative action on organized retail crime on Thursday during a roundtable with law enforcement officials and retail leaders at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids. 

Organized retail crime can leave businesses with billions in lost revenue and can affect sales tax revenue, the law enforcement and retail leaders said Thursday. It also is linked to money laundering supplying the illicit fentanyl trade in Iowa, they said. 

Grassley said the need for legislative support behind his bipartisan legislation, which he crafted with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada. 

The Combating Organized Retail Crime Act would establish a center for Organized Retail Crime at the Homeland Security Investigations division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

“We’re seeing a disturbing link between organized crime targeting American retailers and the drug cartels that are fueling record overdose deaths in the United States,” Grassley said. “Our communities are caught in a harmful cycle where workers and businesses are robbed, sometimes violently, to advance money-laundering schemes that enable drug cartels to send poison right back to those same communities.”

Steve Cagen, U.S. Department of Homeland Security assistant director of investigations, said the fruits of these organized retail crime sprees are sold on the black market to allow Chinese money laundering organizations to clean money coming from illicit fentanyl sales in Iowa. 

“Organized Retail Crime poses a serious threat to local communities and retailers,” Cagen said. “ORC enables Chinese Money Laundering Organizations, who have also become the preferred money launders of Mexican Cartels trafficking in deadly fentanyl.” 

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Iowa businesses lost $1.4 billion of revenue from organized retail crime and $68 million in lost tax revenue in 2021. 

Scott Glenn, Home Depot’s Vice President of Asset Protection, said the impact that organized retail crime has not only on lost revenue but employee morale and recruitment efforts. 

“While I’m concerned about the financial cost to our company, we really have to say it’s more about our associates at the stores,” Glenn said. “We’re facing these types of activities, these daily attacks — these threats — every day and they continue to grow.”

Ryan Moore, the assistant director of the Iowa Division of Narcotics and Enforcement at the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said that Iowa DPS can track most of the illicit drug trade in Iowa back to the Mexican border and cartels. 

Moore said that fewer drugs are manufactured in Iowa but rather transported from border states to Iowa communities. 

“We as Iowans will continue to see the rise of methamphetamine and fentanyl in our communities until the SW border is secured and Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations are dealt with more aggressively and prosecuted at the highest level,” Moore said.