GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Investigators say a serial shoplifter is responsible for ripping off nearly a dozen stores and stealing at least $3,600 worth of products just this year in metro Grand Rapids.
His rap sheet goes back much further. Richard Kuikstra, 53, of Grand Rapids, has dozens of retail fraud convictions dating back to 1988.
“It’s a major problem for all the retailers, whether it be the mom-and-pop stores or the major ones like Meijer, Walmart and so forth,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told News 8.
Kuikstra is also a registered sex offender.
Within weeks of getting out of prison in January, investigators say he went on a stealing spree all over metro Grand Rapids.
He appeared in court Wednesday morning on nine retail fraud cases. First-degree retail fraud is a five-year felony, but the penalty can be enhanced because of numerous prior convictions. Kuikstra waived his preliminary examinations, so the cases will continue on to circuit court. The court entered a not guilty plea for Kuikstra, which is standard.
“We have seen individuals sometimes groups that are repeat offenders,” Becker said. “It is a huge problem for law enforcement when you have these people doing it over and over again and trying to hold them accountable.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office has cases on Kuikstra for every month this year. He was often captured on surveillance video wearing sunglasses to hide his appearance.
“People are wearing masks, they go in with masks, they wear hats, they wear the sunglasses,” Becker explained.
According to court filings, Kuikstra stole three 18-packs of beer from the Speedway on 68th Street SW in February. In March, he took several Ciroc bottles from the D&W on 28th Street, investigators said. The alcohol was worth $300. Kuikstra also stole $100 worth of liquor bottles from Forest Hills Foods on March 7, according to court filings.
He then allegedly walked out of Lowe’s in April with $860 worth of DeWalt combo kits.
Kuikstra targeted Forest Hills Foods again in May. Investigators say he stole nearly $1,700 worth of alcohol.
The shoplifting continued into June, prosecutors say. On June 12, Kuikstra was seen taking four items including a cordless DeWalt drill from the Walmart on 28th Street.
Three days later at the Family Fare on Kalamazoo Avenue, employees say Kuikstra tried putting beef tenderloin, chicken breasts and pork chops inside a damaged paper towel package before he ran off.
Shoplifting cases have surged nationwide.
“Coming out of COVID, we had a lot more people going into stores on a repeated basis and taking a lot of items,” Becker said.
The prosecutor said it’s not unusual for the same person to steal from stores over and over.
“That’s the thing we’ve seen in the past,” Becker said. “I think that’s why the Legislature has changed some of the laws because we do have now the organized retail fraud law where you have additional penalties.”
In most of his alleged crimes this year, loss prevention workers recognized Kuikstra from previous shoplifting.
“To some extent, people are seeing that stores are being less confrontational because they have these policies of not wanting to get their employees assaulted, whatever may happen,” Becker said. “So I think people are getting a little more emboldened, as well.”
Becker says it can be easier to prosecute these cases because stores take the incidents seriously and report them to police. The amount of evidence available, including surveillance footage, also helps.
“Especially when you go into the big-box retailers, they all have cameras, they all have loss prevention officers, they all also share information,” Becker said. “So you go into the Meijer on Cascade and the Meijer on 28th Street had something happen, there’s a lot of communication where we are able to build a case.”
Becker said his office is charging these cases and “not giving people a pass.” The prosecutor stressed it’s in the community’s interest for the crimes to stop.
“That’s one of the things that people may not realize is, ‘Oh, what’s the big deal if you take $50 from Walmart?’” he said. “But that adds up over time if everybody does it and they pass those costs along to the consumers. It really does cost the public. It’s not a victimless crime.”
“We’re paying high enough as it is for groceries,” Becker continued. “There’s no need to add it on.”