Operation Western Sizzler
Operation Western Sizzler was a sting operation conducted by the Birmingham Police Department from September 1985 to February 1986 to lure thieves to fence their goods and discuss their crimes at a store called Johnny's Thrift Shop in West End.
The store would purchase almost any valuable item that thieves brought in. The part of store owner Johnny was played by Tuscaloosa police officer Johnny Samaniego, a 34-year-old undercover narcotics agent who was on loan to the Birmingham police. Johnny would engage the thieves in conversation, getting them to provide their names, addresses, and details of the thefts while a concealed video camera behind the counter recorded.
Over five months, the store performed 235 transactions, spending $67,000 to purchase $2 million worth of stolen items. These items included 113 cars, four motorcycles, firearms, musical instruments, household electronics and appliances, power tools, credit cards, and clothing. Word even spread to surrounding states, luring at least one thief with a stolen car from Atlanta. When the operation concluded, 65 suspects had been identified and at least 37 were arrested within a week of the store closing.
- "Jail Sale: Where cupidity bred stupidity." (February 24, 1986). Time. Accessed October 27, 2009.