Per ABC, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office claims the men purchased expensive new TVs from Walmart, replaced them with used TVs, and then returned the TVs back to Walmart for cash. They would allegedly then keep and resell the new TVs.
“Criminals like these are the reason our agency has a full-time Organized Retail Crime unit, working hand-in-hand with loss prevention personnel, retailers, and other agencies, to take a closer look at what might appear to some to be a ‘victimless’ crime. This is not ‘shoplifting’ - this rises to the level of racketeering, and the truth is, everyone suffers -consumers and businesses alike,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a press release.
This announcement follows an investigation that began on Aug. 31, 2019. Law enforcement estimates the five suspects lifted about $3.6 million from Walmart retailers since at least 2014. The scheme operated in at least 13 different states, and the suspects allegedly scammed Walmarts in 39 different Florida counties, including Polk.
One of the suspects has passed away and two of the other men are in police custody. There are two suspects with warrants out for their arrest. Police are also searching for three additional suspects. They all face multiple charges including fraud and racketeering.
“While much of the country was busy social distancing and taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the criminals executing this expansive retail theft scheme were driving to Walmart stores throughout the country, replacing new televisions with damaged or used ones and fraudulently returning them for a massive ill-gotten pay day," Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a press release.