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Sprawling South Florida retail theft crime ring busted; over a dozen suspects snared

Arrests in multi-South Florida county retail theft crime ring announced
Arrests in multi-South Florida county retail theft crime ring announced 27:55

MIAMI --  State and local law enforcement authorities on Monday announced the arrests of over a dozen people in connection with what they said was a sprawling organized retail theft scheme that spanned South Florida.

Fourteen suspects were identified from the multi-county investigation that unfurled over nine months and was linked to $20 million in losses to the retail industry this year alone, according to officials. The charges include racketeering and organized retail theft, authorities said.

Authorities announce arrests in connection with a multi-county retail theft scheme. CBS News Miami

Authorities said three suspects were still outstanding but investigators were looking to take them into custody.

The sweeping investigation included several South Florida law enforcement jurisdictions from several counties, including from Miami-Dade Police Department, Broward Sheriff's Office, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, Pembroke Pines Police Department, Coral Springs Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations who collaborated with the Office of Statewide Prosecution, the police statement said.

"This just shows what happens when we work together," said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. "I'm really proud of this collaboration. It uncovered a criminal organization that has caused billions -- not millions -- billions of dollars in losses to our retail industry and to all of us, the consumers."  

Investigators said some of the retailers targeted in the probe included 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, various pool supply stores  and some small music businesses.

During a Monday news conference, Miami-Dade police Maj. Jorge Aguiar of the department's Organized Crime Bureau, said there were several levels of how the organized theft ring worked.

He said a street team of shoplifters, or "boosters," would go into local retailers and take "an assortment of products" that would include things like over-the-counter medication to pricey golf bags.

Those items would then be taken to a second person who would catalog the items before they were then sold to an online retailer for sale to consumers. He was identified as Joshua Markell, who owned an Amazon storefront named Hollywood seller, which would then sell the stolen merchandise to unsuspecting consumers across the country.

"Organized retail theft is a growing cancer throughout our nation," Aguiar said, adding that the investigation began nine months ago when officials in Miami-Dade learned of a series of coordinated retail thefts by boosters in Palm Beach and Broward counties. That's when the jurisdictions began to work together. 

The investigation resulted in law enforcement seizing more than $1.2 million in stolen merchandise that Markell intended to sell on Amazon, which was over 4,800 stolen items. Markell shipped more than 100,000 items to Amazon for the Hollywoodseller this year, the attorney general's office said.

According to officials, the 14 suspects, including Markell, are facing charges that include racketeering, organized retail theft, grand theft, dealing in stolen property and other conspiracy charges.    

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