HUDSON — Sheriff Chris Nocco tried to warn them.
At the main entrance to the Walmart Supercenter on U.S. 19, his deputies placed a flashing sign that lit up the night sky:
"SHOPLIFTER ZERO TOLERANCE
COULD BE ON DUTY
DON'T RISK IT!"
Just beyond the sign, thieves worked the sprawling parking lot. They scoured the pavement for discarded receipts, entered the store and matched them to merchandise. On the way out, they stopped by the customer service desk for a refund.
Meanwhile, other thieves employed less sophisticated and old-fashioned methods of ripping off the store, stuffing merchandise down their pants. One woman walked past employees, through the automatic doors and into the parking lot — with a trampoline.
She and 49 others wound up arrested in a crackdown at a store that had been hit particularly hard by shoplifters. Last year, deputies made 221 arrests at the store, said Lt. Brian Prescott, who said the real victims are ordinary customers.
"These merchants don't just absorb these losses," he said. "They're passing those losses on to you and I when we go in there and buy bread and milk and clothing."
During a press conference Monday, Prescott said retail theft last year made up about half the 12,000 total crimes reported in Pasco County.
Nocco called shoplifting a "criminal enterprise."
He ordered deputies into the store dressed in plain clothes. They worked with the store's security staff, following suspects and arresting them on a variety of charges, including grand theft. Some were charged with violation of probation and drug possession. Deputies recovered $4,700 in stolen goods, Nocco said.
The woman with a 7-foot Bazoongi trampoline valued at $160, Jamie Elaine Brown, 33, dropped it on the floor and it made a loud noise, attracting a deputy's attention. She loaded the box on her shopping cart and was arrested when she tried to put it in her car. The sheriff featured her in a video taken by one of the store's cameras and distributed to the media during the press conference.
Also featured was Eugene Allen, 33, who tried to leave without paying for a laptop charger, deputies said. Surveillance video from May 4 shows him leaving the store and then running back in before a deputy tackled him. He also was wanted in connection with a string of prior crimes, including grand theft auto and fleeing to elude. He remained in the Land O'Lakes jail Monday in lieu of $31,000 bail.
Nocco said he and the others arrested should have read the sign.
Contact Alex Orlando at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.