-- As long as there have been shops, there have been shoplifters. Some are the grab-and-go types, others work in orchestrated teams, but few can compare to Michael Pollara.
Pollara is a Shakespeare of shoplifting, a maestro in the criminal art.
The 46-year-old has strolled out of hundreds of stores with at least $1 million dollars’ worth of merchandise over the course of his criminal career, according to Florida authorities. Easter Island, China, Africa—Pollara claims to have traveled around the world 25 times, but he says he paid for it all with travel points, not cash from stolen goods.
Pollara would hit toy stores, pharmaceutical stores, department stores, shopping mall specialty stores, just to name a few, according to police. He admitted to police that he worked with many “fences” -- a name for criminals who traffic stolen goods, but he also sold some of what he stole on eBay, and he had shoplifting down to a science.
“There’s only five methods,” he said. “Either it’s on you, either, if you’re a female, it’s in the purse, either it’s in a bag or it’s in a shopping cart or it’s in a box.”
Pollara’s favorite shoplifting trick was to empty a box of its contents in a store and then refill the box with many expensive items. He would then purchase the box without the attendants realizing he was actually walking out with stolen merchandise inside the original box.
But even the greats have their weaknesses. Pollara’s downfall was that he repeatedly used several of the same frequent customer cards in his shoplifting forays, which eventually led to Toys “R” Us building a case against Pollara, which they brought to Sgt. Rich Rossman of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Rossman followed Pollara on one particular shoplifting spree in August 2012 that spanned more than 20 Florida stores.
“He was up bright and early and stole from dawn to the evening hours,” Rossman said. “I had to call the wife and say, ‘I don’t know when I’m coming home.’”
He finally was arrested in 2012 and served almost two years in jail.
When investigators later asked him how much he stole from Toys “R” Us during his 11-year crime spree, he said he told them “probably a whole store full.”
“My nickname in jail-- everyone has a jail name, I mean, they don’t call you ‘Michael.’ So you could assume what my nickname was. I was ‘Toys “R” Us,’” Pollara said.
After two years in prison, Pollara relishes his freedom. He declined to say where he spends his time these days, or what were his favorite stores.
“I can’t tell those because, you don’t know, I might be in those,” he said, with a laugh.