46ºF

FDLE busts multi-state organized retail theft ring

Home Depot, Target stores in 23 Florida counties targeted

FDLE agents arrested three suspects suspected of an elaborate scheme stealing thousands from retailers across the southeastern U.S., including more than 100 thefts in 23 Florida counties. Two suspects remain at large.

The investigation began in May after FDLE was contacted by The Home Depot about a barcode switch scam. Agents believe the suspects printed fraudulent UPC barcodes on adhesive stickers and then placed the false labels over UPC barcodes on more expensive products at The Home Depot and Target stores.

Suspects printed UPC codes for $7.99 electrical outlets and placed them over barcodes for wireless smart dimmer switches costing $99.95 and home wifi systems costing $299. They also printed UPC barcodes for $19.97 rotary tool accessory kits, using the fraudulent codes to purchase $199 smart thermostats.

The investigation shows one suspect placed the false barcodes on the merchandise in store while another purchased the products. Suspects routinely purchased dozens of items costing stores thousands of dollars in a single transaction.

After the purchases, suspects mailed the items to another suspect who sold them online for large profits. Agents say the thefts cost retailers more than $150,000 in Florida alone. Duval, St. Johns and Alachua were among the counties in the state where FDLE believes the theft ring operated.

“Think about what these individuals could have achieved if they had spent half as much time thinking about being good, productive citizens instead of this elaborate scheme,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said. “We will work to ensure they have a long time in a prison cell to get their priorities straight.”

“Organized retail crime is a serious and growing problem for the retail industry,” said Mike Combs, director of Home Depot investigations. “We’re grateful to partner with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to track this group and end their multi-state operation.”

The investigation began in May after FDLE was contacted by The Home Depot about a barcode switch scam. Agents believe the suspects printed fraudulent UPC barcodes on adhesive stickers and then placed the false labels over UPC barcodes on more expensive products at The Home Depot and Target stores.

Suspects arrested or charged Monday are:

Usman Ali, 33, of Pembroke Pines, is charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering and grand theft, arrested on November 22, 2019, booked into the Broward County Jail.

Rand Clark, 58, of Orlando, charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering, arrested September 17, 2019, in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, for a theft that occurred in a Home Depot store.

Gwendolyn Walker, 53, of Orlando, charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering, arrested on November 22, 2019, and booked into the Orange County Jail.


About the Author: