(The Center Square) – Florida is cracking down on organized retail theft. Recent multi-agency criminal investigations uncovered millions of dollars in stolen goods and murdered suspects, Attorney General Ashley Moody said.
Moody announced the results of a recent racketeering investigation as well as the results of another major operation, all targeting retail theft.
“In Florida, we are fighting back against organized retail theft,” Moody said. “We will not allow this crime, occurring rampantly in other parts of our country, to wreak havoc on our consumers and businesses.”
“Operation On the Fence” focused on a large retail theft criminal enterprises operating in South Florida in at least nine judicial circuits. Perpetrators caused over $20 million in losses to more than 20 different retailers statewide, including Walmart, Target, Publix, Home Depot, Lowes, several pharmacies, major department stores and small businesses including pool supply stores and music businesses. Stolen items included over-the-counter medications and cosmetics, tools, electronics, Legos, and other household items, according to the investigation.
The operation involved several law enforcement partners, including the AG’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, the Miami-Dade Police Department, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations, the Coral Springs Police Department and the Pembroke Pines Police Department.
According to the joint investigation, “dozens of serial retail thieves brought stolen items to a first-level illicit distributor, Arland Cata,” who allegedly purchased roughly $1 million worth of stolen merchandise, paying thieves between 5% to 10% of the items’ retail value.
He then allegedly sold the stolen items “to a higher-level distributor, Joshua Markell,” according to the investigation. Markell, who owned an Amazon storefront, Hollywoodseller, resold the stolen items to unsuspecting consumers nationwide, authorities maintain.
Over the past year, Hollywoodseller made over $5 million in sales of which Cata, who has since been murdered, received roughly $1.2 million from January to September, according to the investigation. Both employed several workers who assisted with inventory management and transported over 100,000 stolen items to Amazon.
The operation led to law enforcement officers seizing over $1.2 million worth of nearly 5,000 stolen items intended to be sold on Amazon.
The AG’s Office of Statewide Prosecution is filing criminal charges against 14 defendants for their alleged involvement in the retail theft ring. Charges include racketeering, organized retail theft, grand theft, dealing in stolen property and other conspiracy charges based on roles within the criminal enterprise.
There is a current and separate ongoing investigation into Cata’s homicide.
Moody also announced the results of another multi-agency retail theft investigation. In this case, the alleged ringleader of an organized retail theft ring, Chanthan Scott Khouleanghak, and five other group members, devised a scam to purchase and return televisions to and from Walmart stores in Polk County, she said. It involved over 1,000 separate transactions of purchasing new televisions and then returning them several days later claiming they were damaged.
But investigators found that Khouleanghak allegedly returned older, broken televisions “to pass off as the new merchandise and sold the newer items to a secondhand electronics dealer in Georgia.”
Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives worked with authorities in Georgia on the case.
Moody’s Office of Statewide Prosecutors charged Khouleanghak with organized scheme to defraud, grand theft, trafficking in stolen property and cheating. He was recently sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, followed by five years’ probation, and ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution.
One of the criminal group members is currently serving time in prison. Another is under the supervision of the Florida Department of Corrections. Arrest warrants are currently out for two alleged members. One is deceased.