Busting an Organized Shoplifting Ring

Florida authorities show how they track a suspect they believe is leading a multi-layered shoplifting ring.
3:00 | 07/27/14

Coming up in the next {{countdown}} {{countdownlbl}}

Coming up next:

{{nextVideo.title}}

{{nextVideo.description}}

Skip to this video now

Now Playing:

{{currentVideo.title}}

More information on this video
Enhanced full screen
Explore related content
Comments
Related Extras
Related Videos
Video Transcript
Transcript for Busting an Organized Shoplifting Ring
It seemed like some petty shoplifting. One missing lipstick there, a pair of sunglasses there. But for one woman, it ended up costing much more than she ever expected, when she suddenly became a target of a major undercover sting operation. And well were there as it all went down. All right, Todd, they're approaching the store right now. What are you watching, investigators say is an organized shoplifting ring in action. In this case, the suspect, Melinda Ford, aka puffy, is about to hit the dressing room of a bell's department store in Florida. Right now what we're seeing is our main target in the store. Last year, we were given access to an unfolding crime that starts with the slight of hand and ends up costing all of us big money. Cops tell us that puffy is their prime suspect. They call her the booster. And they believe she could be the key to bringing down a multi-layered Florida sh shoplifting ring. Over the last three years, shoplifting has become a growing national problem. Stars mark up merchandise to offset the losses and it will cost your household roughly $400 a year. Picking up another individual. We have one occupant and one suspect. That's why Jim ostojic has spent nearly a month chasing puffy in that yellow beetle. All right, they're pulling in now. The woman driving puffy around, they call here W pee-wee, and we're blurring her face because she's actually an informa informant. Once inside the fitting room, she conceals one of each item under her street clothes. Pee-wee tells the cops that puffy then hands the items over to a network of men and women she pays to return the goods to the store. We watch md ed as security monitored one of those illegal returns going down. She just returned the stolen stuff. Police say suspected returners cash the stolen goods in for store credits in the form of gift cards. They believe those gift cards will later turn up on popular online auction sites. The gift cards are money, right? It's gold. After weeks of following puffy in and out of stores along a 90-mile stretch from Orlando all the way to Tampa, sarge and his team finally are ready to arrest her. Investigators say if they can flip puffy, they're betting they can round up the returners, the fencers and bring down the whole booster ring. Bell's security team is in place. Both subjects have entered the store. They're inside the store, monitoring puffy and the police informant pee-wee. And radioing their movements to officers outside, waiting in the parking lot. Subjects are now exciting the store. And unmarked police car is waiting. Subject has entered the vehicle. Vehicle is moving. As they exit the parking lot, the police pull up right behind them. Pee-wee, who has been wearing a wire for weeks now fakes being terrified. They coming, they coming. They're pulling me. Oh . Put your Seat belt on! This particular bell's is right across the street from their own sheriff substation. So, they pull over puffy and pee-wee right into the station's parking lot. Puffy is escorted inside. Directly into an interrogation room. They need to turn puffy, because they believe as the head of the ring, she's the only one who can lead them to everyone involved. I want to get one thing straight with you, okay? Understand, if you're going to cooperate with us, and we're going to help you, you've got to fully cooperate. If you don't want to do that, you need to tell me now. Because I don't want to waste my time. Police say the rest of the suspected come polices likely don't know who each other are. I want a name of every person you can set up a deal to sell this stuff to. Today. After a few hours confronting her, police say puffy finally seems to crack. These guys have managed to get puffy to call everybody, and she's going to go to them one by one, try to sell them something and these guys are going to bust all of them. Over the next 24 hours, puffy works and works well for the police. He would be the only person. He don't have a phone number. Me notticly helping them set up and round up her alleged accomplices. As she sets up to bust them, she seems surprised that what she's been doing is considered a serious crime. I never thought that what I did was this serious. It's very serious. It actually is organized crime. Puffy, who will later receive a two-year prison term plus ten years of probation, gets to work, helping to round up a dozen suspected returners. Picking P one iing up one of the returners right now. Black shirt, red pants. Going right for me. These are the people puffy claims she paid to return her stolen merchandise. Police say they have evidence that 33-year-old Erika is also one of them. Calm down. She was given 24 months of probation. I don't want him in my face with these cameras! Police say Erika only made about five or ten bucks for each return. Next, the suspected fencers. They're the people who puffy tell us buy the gift cards from her, for about 50 cents on the dollar. What I do? We have a warrant for your arrest. Police say one of puffy's fencers semis her boosted merchandise at a store. They send her in with dresses they've secretly marked. I been steaming all day. Police have coached puffy to tell ray, aka bubba, that the items are stolen. All right, baby, I ain't going to argue with you. It's stolen. There ain't no overhead from him. The next day, the police raid the store. And find most of that merchandise up for sale. I didn't know it was stolen. He was later convicted of dealing in stolen property and sentenced to 36 months in prison. In the three weeks we followed them, the Polk county sheriff's office arrested puffy and 16 of her suspected associates and were able to stop what they say is one of the largest organized retail crime rings operating in central Florida. "A cos arm?

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

{"id":24730313,"title":"Busting an Organized Shoplifting Ring","duration":"3:00","description":"Florida authorities show how they track a suspect they believe is leading a multi-layered shoplifting ring.","section":"Nightline","mediaType":"Default"}