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South Florida Cops Take Down Retail Crime Theft Ring

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Nearly two dozen people have been charged in a retail theft operation which stretched from South Florida to Orlando.

The 23 arrests ranged from shoplifting thieves through the various levels of middleman fences to the final retailer fences who sold the stolen goods to the public, according to a statement from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office who issued details of the take down at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

In total, the ring is estimated to have stolen approximately $15 million in merchandise from grocery and drug stores.

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said the operation is one of historic proportions, that the bust may be "the first time in America"  that racketeering charges have been brought against a large, top to bottom group of shoplifting conspirators.

"These professional thieves, in an organized way, stole every single day. That was their job," Rundle said.

Representatives from the Miami-Dade Police Department, Broward Sheriff's Office, Orange County Sheriff's Office, Homeland Security Investigations, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy and Publix Supermarkets were scheduled to attend the conference.

Publix Supermarkets representative Nicole Krauss said shoplifters hit consumers in the pocket.

"Organized retail crime affects our customers in that it doesn't allow us to control prices," Krauss said.  "It makes prices go up."

Having notched a huge bust, the Organized Retail Crime task force, plans to remain intact.

"We want to send a message to the community that we're out there watching," said Doral Police Chief Richard Blom.  "We want to send a message to the bad guys."

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