HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — It’s an important item for parents but for criminals, it’s known as “liquid gold." ABC Action News has uncovered a large statewide shop-lifting ring targeting baby formula.
Scroll through OfferUp or Craigslist and you won’t have a hard time finding baby formula. But would you think twice knowing criminals use sites like these to sell stolen formula?
“There’s a lot of people that don’t have the means and they think they are getting a bargin and the poor babies suffer," said customer Betty Negron.
We’ll get to that last part in a moment.
But first, let's talk about profits. While it might cost you around $25 at the store, criminals can pocket $15 to 30 per can, making baby formula a very hot commodity.
“For one can?!" gasped Negron, "Oh my gosh. Really?”
Court documents link 11 people to the shoplifting ring. Kengie Perez Jones, Cynard Bailey, Zebadiah Herron, Edward Crews, Jr., Samya Harris, Ronald West, Konaa Kenyetta, Barbara Cummings, Willie Beeman, Jr., Lee York and Nikita Adkins are charged with racketeering or conspiracy to commit racketeering.
They are accused of stealing thousands of dollars worth of items including cigarettes, generators, tools and, of course, baby formula.
Back in August, a camera caught two people making off with nearly 70 cans of formula from a Land O’ Lakes Publix. Neither Hillsborough or Pasco Counties Sheriffs Offices could confirm if they are part of the same ring. The former citing the active investigation.
The stolen formula doesn't just hurt stores. Experts say the product can end up in rat-infested, hot warehouses. Thieves could even change expiration dates.
“Very dangerous, very dangerous," said Edgar Calixto while holding his six-month-old son, "I think those people don’t even have a heart."
The lesson here is think twice before buying from less than legitimate sources.