MIAMI — When it came to shopping at Toys "R" Us stores, a Florida man and his mom were what you might call loyal customers.
Michael, 46, and Margaret Pollara, 70, visited 139 Toys "R" Us stores in 27 states, including California, Hawaii and New York, over the course of months. Michael Pollara wanted to get a deal on all those purchases, so he used a store card that racked up rewards for repeat customers.
That Toys "R" Us loyalty card, authorities said, is what helped unravel a ruse that made the Pollaras hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit profits from stealing toys during those shopping trips.
"He considered it an art," one of the investigators, Broward County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Rich Rossman, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "The art of stealing."
The mother and her son, who is from outside of Fort Lauderdale, were arrested last week on fraud and other charges. Margaret Pollara was released from the Broward County Jail after posting bail, but records show her son, held on at least $300,000 bail on more severe charges, remained in jail Monday.
They are accused of stealing more than $2 million worth of toys over the course of months through a ploy authorities call "box stuffing." It worked like this, investigators said:
They would go in the stores and find inexpensive toys contained in large boxes. Then they'd toss out the cheap toys and find much more expensive toys to put in the boxes instead. So when they went through the checkout line, a clerk would not realize that a box was disguising an entirely different — and more expensive — toy inside.
The stolen toys included $150 Lego sets and $99 Leapster Pads, investigators said.
The pair would discard the cheap contents somewhere around the store. Margaret Pollara often worked as a lookout, according to deputies.
Then the Pollaras sold the big-ticket toys online, an arrest affidavit shows.
Authorities tracked the two for months, watching them supposedly steal from stores around Florida and later ship packages of toys.
Michael Pollara had more than $900,000 in eBay and PayPal accounts, according to an arrest report.
Authorities began following the two in May after a Toys "R" Us employee in South Florida noticed that several large Lego boxes were missing, even though she had seen them on the shelf earlier that morning.
Store video showed Michael Pollara carrying the Lego box in the toy aisle, but the video did not show him actually removing the contents.
He used a Toys "R" Us rewards card for his purchase, which helped authorities track his moves around the country.