WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (FOX 13) - Five people have been arrested and one is on the run accused of orchestrating a retail theft scheme across 14 Florida counties, stealing over $2 million worth of goods.
The suspects, all from Tampa, were arrested following an undercover investigation among state and local agencies in Florida. Detectives said the individuals targeted the following stores: Burlington Coat Factory, CVS, JCPenney, Publix, Walgreens and Winn-Dixie, stealing items like razor blades, white strips, shoes, and cologne, among other items.
Officials said the six suspects hit up to 10 businesses per day, between four and five nights a week, stealing between 10-and-$15,000 worth of merchandise a night, storing the stolen goods inside a cooler and making several trips in and out of the store. "This is unbelieveable to me that they can go out like a swarm of locusts and steal so much in one night," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd at a news conference Wednesday.
There were 150 reported thefts in the state, and at least 25 of those occurred in Polk County. The Polk County Sheriff's Office reported between $150,000 and $200,000 worth of goods were stolen.
The stolen items were then sold, and even shipped as far as Cuba for a profit, detectives said, which resulted in felony charges.
Sheriff Judd said the alleged ringleader, Reynel Hernandez Perdomo, 43, of Tampa, rented a business as a front and even obtained a business license. "He had a business license to deal in stolen property," Sheriff Judd said. "He dummied up."
The other suspects who were arrested were identified as Santiago Martinez Jorrin, 33, Tomas Rodriguez Oliva, 47, Dayron Ramon Torres, 31, and Danays Acosta Benitez, 34, who Sheriff Judd said packaged up stolen goods and shipped them to Cuba.
The investigation into who was buying the goods or how the money was getting back into the United States is ongoing. "We haven't closed that loop," Sheriff Judd said.
Polk County deputies are still searching for Michael Baladron Jimenez, 32, of Tampa, who is also wanted for his role in the theft ring. "We need him. Give us a lead where he's ducking Grady," Sheriff Judd said.
Anyone with information on his whereabouts should call the sheriff's office or Crimestoppers to be eligible for a reward.
All six suspects face a long list of charges including dealing in stolen property, racketeering, grand theft, and fraud.
Sheriff Judd said at least two of the suspects were also on food stamps and had EBT cards. "Both were on federal assistance. Did you hear me? They were taking federal assistance," said Sheriff Judd. "While they were stealing stuff to the tune of millions of dollars, they were also taking your tax dollars in the area of food stamps," he said.
The suspects will face a judge in court at 1 p.m.
The investigation involved sheriff's offices in Hillsborough County and Polk County, along with the Tampa Police Department, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and other statewide agencies.