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ICE HSI Dallas collaboration leads to arrests in $10 million retail theft ring

Twenty-nine members of a large-scale theft ring operating from northeastern Oklahoma were charged by federal and state prosecutors for their roles in an organization whose operations crossed state lines, resulting in more than $10 million in losses to retailers, announced acting Special Agent in Charge Christopher Miller, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Dallas, U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson of the Northern District Oklahoma and Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor.

According to the federal indictment and the state of Tulsa’s probable cause affidavit, defendant Linda Been led a criminal enterprise of “Boosters” netting more than $4.5 million from the sale of stolen merchandise and over-the-counter products to fencing organizations outside of Oklahoma. The “Fences” then sold the stolen products through e-commerce sites, like eBay and Amazon.

“These federal indictments are a result of the tremendous work and collaboration accomplished by our trusted law enforcement partners, said Miller. “It does not matter where these criminal networks operate and sell their illegally acquired goods. We will work without end to ensure those involved are investigated and brought to justice.”

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Been and her team of boosters allegedly stole products from retailers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Colorado. Been would pay boosters’ expenses when they traveled outside Tulsa. She would further pay boosters’ bond when arrested so they could continue their illicit activity. Boosters would then deliver the goods to predetermined locations in Tulsa, Sand Springs, and Cleveland, Oklahoma. The stolen goods were either bulk shipped to other regional fencing operations in the eastern United States or sold online to individual purchasers both domestically and internationally.

“Organized retail crime is costly to the economic well-being of our communities. This alleged retail theft ring is estimated to have caused retailers more than $10 million in losses,” said U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson. “A joint team of investigators have worked meticulously over the past several years to connect the evidence and bring this case forward for prosecution. I am thankful for their professionalism and persistence.”

Financial payments for the stolen products were often made through PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App, and some payments were made with drugs. Stores targeted in the theft of goods included Reasor’s, Sprouts, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, Walgreens, CVS, GNC and others.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’ Conner said, “These are serious crimes. Organized crime is on the rise nationwide, and my office is committed to holding criminals accountable for their actions. I want to thank the state, local, and federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors for their work and partnership in this case.”

Other law enforcement agencies supporting the investigation included the IRS-Criminal Investigation Division, Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department, the Tulsa City Police Department, and HSI Task Force Officers from the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General.

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The investigation into the retail theft ring began in 2019 when an organized crime investigator from a pharmacy retailer shared information with law enforcement about bulk thefts at their Tulsa area locations. The investigation is ongoing. In some cases, the defendants are being charged by both state and federal statutes.

Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Richard M. Cella and Reagan V. Reininger are prosecuting the case on behalf of the federal government. Senior Deputy Attorney General Joy Thorp and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Dane Towery are prosecuting the case on behalf of the state of Oklahoma.

A “booster” is a person who steals goods and merchandise, specifically, but not limited to OTC from retail stores.

A “fence” or “fencing operation” is a person, organization or entity that purchases or receives stolen goods and merchandise from boosters. The fence or fencing operation then re-sells the stolen goods and merchandise to third parties.

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HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

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