ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – If grocery shoppers have noticed a shopping cart shortage around Albuquerque, police say there’s at least one man to blame for a big chunk of them.
Detectives arrested Benito Vasquez-Mendez, 41, for allegedly stealing more than 800 shopping carts.
“We noticed a few stores started to miss quite a few shopping carts,” Ryan Peacock, District Manager in Albuquerque for Smith’s, told KRQE News 13.
There are signs posted, warning shopping cart thieves will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. However, Albuquerque Police said a man doing work for Smith’s Grocery Store ignored those signs more than 800 times.
Vasquez-Mendez works for a company that maintains grocery stores and their shopping carts. Part of his job is to make sure all Smith’s shopping carts are working, and clean. But, Smith’s believes he was cleaning up at their expense.
“At the end of the day he was someone we didn’t expect to be taking them from us, but unfortunately he was,” Peacock explained.
In fact, Smith’s now claims more than 800 carts went missing from stores around Albuquerque.
The grocery chain called police. Their first stop was to check out metal recycling yards around the city. That’s where officers said they were able to track receipts for recycled metal to Vasquez-Mendez.
According to a criminal complaint, a south valley recycling yard had records of Vasquez-Mendez making more than 20 trips there over the past year, turning in an estimated 816 shopping carts for cash.
“At first glance you wouldn’t think it’s that huge of a crime, he’s stealing some shopping carts,” said Albuquerque Police officer Tanner Tixier. “But when you realize the full scope of the shopping carts he stole…it was a serious problem.”
If 816 shopping carts sounds like a ton of metal, according to police it’s actually 18 tons.
The accused cart conman was charged with embezzlement and receiving stolen property.
According to police, Vasquez-Mendez received more than $3,000 for the shopping carts. According to Smith’s, those carts were worth about $100,000.