JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two men and six women have been charged after a two-year investigation uncovered an organized crime ring that police believe dealt in $500,000 in stolen merchandise, Jacksonville police announced Tuesday.
Seven of those arrested in a sting dubbed Operation Loot and Scoot are charged with racketeering after $53,000 in merchandise stolen from Walmart, Target, Publix and Winn-Dixie stores was found at the home of the man police said was the ringleader.
Police said they also found $11,400 in cash at Antoun Arbaji's home. Arbaji is charged with 63 felony counts, including racketeering.
“He would recruit shoplifters to steal specific items and he would pay them anywhere from $10 an item or 20 percent of what they brought in," Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said.
A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, told News4Jax Arbaji shared the apartment with his girlfriend. That person witnessed the raid and said investigators were pulling boxes and bins from the home during the arrest.
According to the investigation, the suspects went into major retail stores in a coordinated effort to fill empty plastic totes or suitcases with merchandise, including expensive items, and then walked out of the stores.
If approached by store management, the suspects would abandon the property and flee, investigators said. When the theft ring successfully stole items, they would attempt to sell the stolen goods online, according to police.
Among those arrested are Deedra Berry -- accused of racketeering, 24 counts of grand theft and 12 counts of petty theft -- and her mother, Dantavia Berry -- accused of racketeering, 16 counts of grand theft and five counts of petty theft.
In total, the crime ring was responsible for more than 100 incidents, often involving several thousand dollars' worth of merchandise each, in Bradford, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties. Police believe the ring sold $300,000 worth of the merchandise online.
Williams praised the team of investigators who worked on the case.
“They did tremendous work in staying focused for two years and being able to put together a really, really good case,” Williams said, adding that it's possible the theft ring is responsible for as many as 300 other incidents that are still being investigated.
Those arrested in the operation, and their charges:
- Antoun Arbaji, 40: Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO), 6 counts of dealing in stolen property, 1 count of dealing in stolen property over the internet, 1 count of possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, 54 counts of grand theft, 16 counts of petty theft. Could face up to 796 years in prison.
- Deedra Berry, 43: RICO, 24 counts of grand theft, 12 counts of petty theft. Could face life in prison plus 178 years.
- Dantavia Berry, 19: RICO, 16 counts of grand theft, 5 counts of petty theft. Could face life plus 111 years in prison.
- Brian Harris, 51: RICO, 6 counts of grand theft. Could face life in prison plus 60 years.
- Chiquita Moorehead, 44: 4 counts of grand theft. Could face 20 years in prison.
- Latoya Shurman, 33: RICO, 7 counts of grand theft, 1 count of petty theft. Could face live in prison plus 71 years.
- Natasha Soukseunchay, 36: RICO, 1 count of dealing in stolen property, 1 count of grand theft. Could face life in prison plus 70 years.
- Jennifer Upton, 39: RICO, 20 counts of grand theft. Could face life in prison plus 210 years.
Some of those involved could face federal charges since some of the stolen items were sold across state lines and overseas.
Police said they are investigating an additional 300 theft cases that may be related to the theft ring. More arrests could be made.