More than a dozen suspects are facing charges in connection with a Miami-Dade retail theft ring that caused more than $20 million in damages this year alone, officials said.
The 14 suspects who targeted at least 20 different retailers face charges under “Operation On the Fence,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said at a news conference Monday.
Miami-Dade Police officials said the nine-month RICO investigation began in January and targeted “boosters” who steal retail items primarily to resell them.
RICO stands for “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations” and these types of investigations aim to uncover a crime rather than gather evidence of a crime that has already been committed.
This operation had been ongoing for several years, but during the nine-month investigation period, the suspects stole an estimated $5 million worth of products, officials said.
According to authorities, around 50 people across Florida were involved in the operation.
Major Jorge Aguiar of the Miami-Dade Police Department told NBC6 on Tuesday that the suspects were “very bold” in stealing the goods.
“They scanned and printed their own barcodes and overlaid them on top of the manufacturers’ barcodes, they accessed a copy of a store’s master key, found a way to open the glass cases and empty the drugs into trash bags, and loaded purchases.” “I grabbed carts with items and just walked out,” Aguiar said.
He also said that a suspect even measured the trunk of his two-seater car and found that three boxes of televisions fit inside and that he planned to attack various retailers to steal the goods.
“It was a revolving door,” Aguiar said. “Just like you would see in a crack house where people come in and out, in and out, he stole three televisions, went to the house, unloaded them and went to another retailer to get three more. Nothing compared to this operation. It was a non-stop business.
Video of the seized goods included DeWalt walkie-talkies, boxes of Reidel glassware and countless boxes of face creams and moisturizers.
“They took all kinds of over-the-counter medications, Claratin, computers, televisions, guitars, tools, pressure washers,” Aguiar said. “They stole everything except the kitchen sink. They took everything that was available and accessible to them.”
The thefts occurred throughout South Florida and the investigation involved multiple local and state law enforcement agencies as well as Homeland Security investigations.
Retail victims include Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Publix, Winn Dixie, Fresco Y Mas, Navarro, Home Depot, Lowes, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, Sam Ash, Best Buy, Harbor Freight, The Fiddle Shop, Guitar Center, Golf Galaxy , Macy’s, BJ’s, Costco and various pool supply stores.
Officials said many of the suspects have already been arrested, but three of the suspects are still at large.
Criminal enterprises like “Operation on the Fence” in South Florida are causing far-reaching impacts, experts say. NBC6’s Kim Wynne reports
“Not only have we confiscated material from the homes where it was stolen after these items were stolen, but we have also confiscated pallets that were waiting to be sold online, we have confiscated goods that were already on Amazon and waiting to be sold was stolen,” Moody said in Monday’s press conference.
Aguiar told NBC6 that e-commerce sites like Amazon do not provide any means of physically monitoring whether the items offered for sale are stolen, but the site clearly states that selling stolen property is illegal and strictly prohibited and whether Items for sale are illegal. If theft is suspected, users should contact customer service.
And according to CNBCIn 2021, Amazon said it spent more than $900 million and employed more than 12,000 people to prevent fraud and abuse. The company added that if there are concerns about the way products were sourced, it requires “proof of sourcing” and works with authorities to root out illegal activity.
On Monday, experts said criminal enterprises like this one are having a domino effect on retailers – as thefts go up, so do prices.
“Anytime they lose significant funds, they have to review and increase their prices,” said Rodey Davis of the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida.
According to the National Retail Federation, many businesses say they have had to make major adjustments due to the increase in organized retail crime. The group released a survey this year that found 28% of retailers have closed a particular location due to theft. 45% had to shorten store opening hours and 30% had to reduce or change products in store due to crime.