Detectives with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, working with other state and local officials have developed 8 suspects statewide during an investigation that started in August of 2019. The suspects are allegedly responsible for the theft and illegal re-sale of high-dollar items such as baby formula, diapers, and energy drinks, resulting in felony charges of grand theft and racketeering, among other crimes.
The total estimated loss to retailers is $84,669, of which $10,520 occurred in Polk County. The victims are: Publix, Southeastern Grocers (Winn-Dixie), and Walmart.
The 18 affected Florida counties were identified as Charlotte, Citrus, Desoto, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Levy, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole, Sumter, and Volusia.
On Wednesday, December 16, 2020, five of the suspects were arrested in Hillsborough County and booked into the HCSO jail. One suspect was arrested in Orlando and booked into the Orange County Department of Corrections facility. On Thursday, December 17th, another suspect turned herself in, in Polk County. The last suspect has a warrant and is still at large.
The thefts and racketeering occurred as follows: Five of the suspects (boosters) would enter the different stores, and place dozens of cans of baby formula into bags. Oftentimes they would put baby diapers on top of the formula to further conceal it. On other occasions they stole energy drinks. They then passed all points of sale and loaded the stolen goods into a rental car. Each organized theft amounted to a range between $350-900 worth of stolen items. The suspects then immediately drove to one of the fencing locations, where they were given cash by the three other suspects (fences) who then resold the stolen items from their stores.
“This is an organized group of criminals working together to steal high-dollar items for their own personal profit, by stealing, and then selling the stolen goods on the black market. These suspects are committing felony racketeering and they belong in prison. Our detectives, FDLE, and the Statewide Prosecutors have done a great job with this investigation—working across many jurisdictions in Florida. Our message is simple: if it’s not yours, don’t take it. Don’t steal in Polk County and don’t steal in Florida. If you do, and we catch you, you will go to jail and then prison. Organized retail theft is a big problem in Florida costing retailers and consumers millions of dollars.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff
Here are a few specific examples of thefts committed by the suspects… CBS44 News