Florida Shoplifting Ring All in the Family

An extended family of shoplifters has been blamed for stealing $100 million worth of merchandise in the last five years and selling the looted stuff through online auctions like eBay, authorities said.

An investigation by Florida police uncovered a five-year scheme of heists that targeted convenience and grocery stores by a large coordinated group.

"In less than three minutes, [they] could walk out with $4,000, $4,400 worth of merchandise," said Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Fla.

Authorities said at least 18 relatives. The ring had a hierarchy where the people on the top had no criminal records, but the people doing the shoplifting had extensive criminal backgrounds, according to police.

Using elaborate teams of scouts for security cameras, lookouts to track employees and grabbers, the team hit as many as eight stores a day.

Police realized the depth of the situation once they discovered that the stolen goods filled a warehouse from the floor to the ceiling. There were thousands of items, primarily health and beauty aids, along with over-the-counter drugs.

Police said the family members sold the stolen items using online auction sites like eBay.

"This is not little Johnny stealing a pack of bubble gum or a woman stealing a single shirt. These groups are very organized and very sophisticated," said Joseph LaRocca, Retailers Federation loss prevention vice president. "They're stealing merchandise and reselling it to make a lot of money."

Some ads even offered free shipping for products like razors, hair growth aids and pregnancy tests. LaRocca said the Internet has made it easier for shoplifters.

"The Internet has now offered a local criminal a national or even worldwide marketplace to sell the merchandise," he said.

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