The contents inside a 7,600-square-foot warehouse near 8 Mile and Dequindre in Hazel Park shocked even hardened veteran investigators: Merchandise stacked from the floor to the ceiling, later learned to be the haul from a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar shoplifting ring in which southeast Michigan stores were targeted daily.
As much as $15,000 a day was stolen in over-the-counter drugs and goods from area stores for resale on the Internet later in an operation Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said was “amazing in size and scope,” the Detroit Free Press reports.
Five people have been arrested so far, including three women who were paid $2,500 in cash a day to serve as shoplifters.
The shoplifters were given lists of items to sell, including high-value items such as cold medicine, antacids and other over-the-counter drugs stolen from CVS and Walgreens pharmacies. They wore specially modified clothing that allowed them to hide what they’d lifted, often stealing between $9,000 and $15,000 a day, Bouchard said.
When the warehouse was raided, investigators found $75,000 in cash, about $3,000 in merchandise from Walgreens and CVS, $10,000 in items from other stores, and $3 million in perfumes, lotions and creams stolen from a Victoria’s Secret store in Las Vegas.
“I guess what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas because it’s now in Hazel Park,” Bouchard said.
Police think the shoplifting ring may have been operating for years until it was discovered last month by detectives from the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team, who began the probe after they suspected the women were stealing over-the-counter drugs to be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
The detectives, who represent police and sheriff’s agencies across the county, noticed that the women were stealing on a massive scale, generating enough cash to purchase real estate without credit.
“They bought this warehouse about nine months ago for $200,000 in cash,” Bouchard said. “They were generating enough cash that they could plunk down $200,000 in cash to buy a facility to expand their operations.”
The investigation is continuing. Ringleaders who were arrested this week include Shah Abullais Khalish, 28, of Hazel Park; Delwar Miah, 23, and Shantell Danne Collins, 24, both of Detroit; and April Lynn Cooper, 29, and Sanda Gale Cooper, 47, both of Warren.
They were charged with organized retail crime and receiving and concealing stolen property, felonies that carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Each of the suspects has been released on bond.Ferndale Police Chief Tim Collins, who is part of the narcotics team, said the operation was “clean and tidy and well run,” much like a retail store. It included a store operation where merchandise was sold and a lift-truck used to move merchandise around.