How a $20 Million Miami Theft Ring Finally Unraveled

By: Carissa | Published: Dec 07, 2023

A theft ring based out of South Florida has been put to a stop after managing to steal a whopping $20 million worth of merchandise.

Fourteen people have been charged with orchestrating the elaborate scheme. Officials from the Miami-Dade Police Department had been investigating the theft ring for nine months before finally closing in on the thieves known as “boosters,” or people who steal retail items for the purpose of reselling them.

What Is a Retail Theft Ring?

A retail theft ring is when a group of people conspire together to steal a high volume of goods from retail stores.

Advertisement
A woman browning a rack of clothing while shopping at the mall

Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Their goal is to make fast money, as they immediately sell the stolen goods for a profit. According to Palm Beach County Detective Christopher Apple, this scheme consisted of two teams of people. “Boosters” were responsible for stealing excessive amounts of merchandise from a string of stores, while “fences” would resell the stolen items for cash.

What Stores Were Targeted?

The theft ring targeted a number of popular retailers such as Home Depot, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Costco, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. 

Advertisement
A customer carrying electronics through a store

Source: Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images

They even pocketed goods from grocery stores such as Publix and Winn Dixie. The shoplifters ransacked as many stores as they could without consequence. Pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS were also frequently victimized, as well as smaller mom-and-pop stores in the area.

Incredibly-Skilled Thieves

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office revealed that 14 people have been arrested in connection with the lengthy investigation known as “Operation On the Fence.” 

Advertisement
A shopping basket full of items at Target

Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The individuals have been hit with an array of charges including racketeering and organized retail theft. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody discussed the criminal operation during a recent news conference, describing it as “well-organized, profitable, [and] criminal.” Moody also likened the high-level theft ring to a “modern-day mafia.”

A Highly Profitable Operation

Over time, the team of shoplifters managed to acquire $20 million worth of retail goods.

Advertisement
Televisions for sale at Best Buy

Source: Spencer Platt

Surveillance camera footage indicates that computers, televisions, guitars, medications, glassware, and expensive facial creams were some of the items that were stolen. The investigation led authorities to seize over $1.2 million in stolen merchandise being resold on Amazon. In total, officials recovered more than 4,800 stolen items.

Running the Operation Like a Business

A team of shoplifters would enter local Florida retailers to steal items they thought would generate a large profit when resold.

A shopping cart full of clothes and shoes

Source: Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

After they left the store with the stolen merchandise, a second person would catalog each item and then sell them to an online retailer. From there, the retailer, identified as Joshua Markell, would sell the goods to customers. The theft ring sold items through an Amazon storefront under the name “Hollywood Seller”. Authorities found that Markell sent over 100,000 items to unsuspecting Amazon buyers this year.

Advertisement

Nonchalantly Walking Out of Stores With Stolen Goods

Major Jorge Aguiar of the Miami-Dade Police Department described how the criminals developed a system that ensured their heists would be successful.

A man with a big screen TV in his shopping cart at Walmart

Source: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

“They were scanning and printing their own barcodes and putting them over the manufacturers’ barcodes,” he said. “They would access a copy of a store’s master key, find a way to open the glass cases and empty out the medications into trash bags, load up shopping carts with items and would just walk out.”

Advertisement

Millions of Dollars Worth of Merchandise Have Been Taken

While the retail theft ring has been active for years, authorities undertook a nine-month investigation to gather enough evidence to finally press charges against the team of crooks.

A man stocking up on DVDs

Source: Philip Pacheco/Getty Images

Officials estimate that the theft ring swiped more than $5 million from retailers during that time. Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw revealed that his department aligned with multiple retailers in order to conduct a thorough investigation.

Advertisement

Police and Retailers Collaborate to Thwart Theft Ring

Bradshaw noted that store owners would alert authorities when items were stolen to collect information without tipping off the suspects.

People walking with shopping bags at the mall

Source: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Both police and retailers had to cooperate to ensure that everything went according to plan. “Security people at the stores can collect data for us, either a tag number, or a description of the people, and get it to the detectives,” he said. “You just can’t go, ‘Oh, it’s a loss, and we’ll write it off.’ “

Advertisement

More Arrests Are Imminent

Because the retail theft ring has so many moving parts, police are still working to arrest others who were involved.

A Miami police officer places someone under arrest

Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

So far, 14 suspects have been linked to the ongoing crime spree, including Markell. Authorities believe that 50 other people throughout the state of Florida also played a role in the theft ring. Police expect more arrests to be made in connection to the elaborate scheme—currently they are working on charging three additional people. 

Advertisement

Working Together, Authorities Praise Themselves on Investigation

At least seven different agencies were involved in the investigation, including the Miami-Dade Police Department, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and Homeland Security Investigations.

The badge of a Miami-Dade police officer

Source: Miami-Dade Police Department/Facebook

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is proud of their efforts, saying, “This just shows what happens when we work together.” She also praised officials for their hard work and diligence over the nine month investigation, saying their collaboration “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.”

Advertisement

The Evidence Says It All

Due to the amount of evidence the police have accumulated, it will be difficult for the accused shoplifters to come up with a solid defense.

A view of prison bars that guard a small jail cell

Source: Wikimedia Commons

During Markell’s first court appearance, his attorney told the judge that he did not know the goods were stolen. Sheriff Bradshaw, for one, isn’t buying his story. He remarked, “If somebody shows up with 30 items that are the same, don’t you think they ought to say, ‘Well, what are you doing with those thirty items?” Mayor Cava echoed those sentiments, adding, “Miami-Dade County has zero tolerance for these crimes.”

Advertisement