TAMPA — The battery thieves knew where to take their goods. Cash for Batteries, on Nebraska Avenue, was unlicensed, did not ask questions and handed over money for batteries.
Tampa police raided the business Tuesday morning and seized more than 350 vehicle batteries, concluding a four-month investigation.
Deputies charged the business' manager, 26-year-old Sophia Desire Gill with dealing in stolen property, purchasing regulated metals without proof of ownership and failing to keep required records.
Additional arrests are pending.
During the investigation, Tampa police sent in undercover detectives on four separate occasions. They always announced they were selling stolen batteries, and employees of the shop at 8717 Nebraska Ave. accepted them, Detective Dan Hinsz said.
More than 50 tons of batteries have moved through the business since the investigation began, police say.
Store employees did not ask for the sellers' fingerprints or participate in the other requirements of businesses that accept metal. Batteries have lead in them, so they are subject to a stricter state law passed last year meant to deter theft.
State law now requires businesses to document every purchase of restricted regulated material, such as batteries, on a Florida Department of Law Enforcement form. The seller must provide a valid driver's license with a current address or a valid state identification. They must also leave a thumbprint.
Cash for Batteries was violating this law by buying batteries with no questions asked, police say.
The stolen batteries came from all over the city, Hinsz said. Private businesses with fleets of trucks were often targeted. So were used car lots. Authorities have also seen batteries stolen from roadside signs.
Sometimes, when detectives would catch battery thieves, the suspects would offer up that they planned to sell the stolen goods at Cash for Batteries, Hinsz said.
He hopes that detectives' work will cause the business to shut down. That should reduce theft, he said.
"They're not going to steal if they don't have a place to sell them," Hinsz said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.