Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Opioids causing Home Depot thefts? CEO gets backlash, but stolen tools do fuel local drug trade

A Times report shows Hillsborough deputies struggle to stomp out tool theft networks tied to drugs.
Methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia sit along side the stolen DeWalt power tool and phony store receipt as evidence is collected on the hood of the car after as two men are arrested at the Home Depot at 10151 Bloomingdale Ave, in Riverview, on Tuesday, June 26, 2019. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia sit along side the stolen DeWalt power tool and phony store receipt as evidence is collected on the hood of the car after as two men are arrested at the Home Depot at 10151 Bloomingdale Ave, in Riverview, on Tuesday, June 26, 2019. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Dec. 12, 2019
Updated Dec. 12, 2019

Critics are accusing Home Depot of contributing to “opioid hysteria” after executives with the company blamed drug addiction this week for contributing to the theft of millions of dollars worth of power tools from its stores nationwide.

But this isn’t the first time that the rise of power tool and retail thefts have been linked to the drug trade.

A Tampa Bay Times report from September showed how Hillsborough County deputies tracked and busted suspected tool theft ringleaders who investigators say relied on “boosters” — largely addicts — to steal popular tools that are easy to sell online.

Read the special report: How the Home Depot’s stolen tools are fueling Florida’s drug trade

On Wednesday, Home Depot CEO Craig Menear told investors and analysts that retailers all over are feeling the burn of what they call organized retail crime.

“We think this ties to the opioid crisis, but we’re not positive about that," Menear said.

Law enforcement officers told the Times that the correlation is clear. In less than a year, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office found one ring stole $2.4 million in tools from just four local Home Depot stores.

A Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy escorts Joseph Cox to a waiting squad car. He was arrested during a summer theft sting, accused of walking out of a Home Depot in Riverview with a Dewalt drill he didn't pay for. He was charged with theft and drug possession and later pleaded guilty to felony petty theft. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

Home Depot’s head of loss prevention has said it has worked with law enforcement in efforts to bust rings with up to $20 million in stolen merchandise.

“They’re using the stolen items to get the drugs that they need,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Maj. Darrin Barlow told the Times earlier this year. “It’s just a different form of currency they’re using to facilitate drug trade.”

Hillsborough deputies regularly pose as the fences or boosters, who steal tools and other items that are easy to sell online through sites such as OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace. But even after big busts, deputies haven’t seen the problem get better. Once a fence is taken down, another pops up to take its place, Barlow said.

The National Retail Federation just released its annual organized crime theft survey this week. It found that 97 percent of the country’s retailers had dealt with theft rings in the last year and 68 percent said they had seen an increase in activity and violence from shoplifting networks.

During its earnings report, Home Depot pointed to the thefts as a reason its operating profit margin would shrink to about 14 percent next year, compared to 14.5 percent in the third quarter.

Home Depot and other companies have worked with the National Retail Federation to push for state laws to make it easier to charge those leading rings with racketeering, rather than with misdemeanor shoplifting charges.

In Florida, recent legal changes allow prosecutors to aggregate items stolen into combined charges over a 90-day period if the thefts occur in more than one county. This enables officers to target rings, which often spread out thefts and change patterns to evade arrest.

Locally, law enforcement targets ringleaders. The big $2.4 million bust last year resulted in 34 total arrests. But the four men who investigators say led the rings — and instructed those struggling with addiction on what to steal — face the most serious charges.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. More than 44 percent of people who searched on ApartmentList.com for the Tampa Bay area from June to December were outside the region, according to a report from Apartment List. Percentages in the “Top Three Sources” box represent the share of searches coming from outside the metro area. (Apartment List map) [Apartment List]
    The region trails only Denver, Baltimore and San Diego for the percentage of people from outside the area searching for apartments on Apartment List.
  2. To accommodate the swelling numbers of aging baby boomers, experts say we will need to make transportation more readily available, build more affordable housing, modify homes and apartments to help seniors age in place, and create programs to bring young and old people together. [Times (2011)]
    “There’s never been a time like this,” one expert says. Solutions include more health aides, taming long-term care costs and just healthier living.
  3. In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo Oscar the cat sits in his carry on travel bag after arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Airlines might soon be able to turn away cats, rabbits and all animals other than dogs that passengers try to bring with them in the cabin. The U.S. Transportation Department on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, announced plans to tighten rules around service animals. The biggest change would be that only dogs could qualify. (Ross D. Franklin | Associated Press] [ROSS D. FRANKLIN  |  AP]
    Soon mainly dogs would be allowed on planes, under plans announced on Wednesday.
  4. The sale of Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans to Centene Corp. is expected to close Thursday, the companies said on Wednesday. [File photo]
    The companies said Wednesday they have satisfied all regulatory approvals, including with the U.S. Department of Justice, for the merger to close.
  5. Power Design has a 22-acre campus in the Gateway area of St. Petersburg. [Rendering courtesy of Power Design]
    In settling the case with the District of Columbia Attorney General’s Office, the electricial contractor company denies that it violated worker classification laws.
  6. Rooker Properties of Atlanta plans to build at least 400,000 square feet of industrial and office space at what is now county-owned  land on Old Pasco Road, Wesley Chapel. Pictured is Rooker's Spartan Ridge Logistics Center, a 273,000-square-foot, Class-A industrial building in Spartanburg, S.C. It was constructed in 2018 and the company said the buildings planned for the Pasco County site will closely resemble this. [Rooker Properties]
    Rick Narkiewicz is seeking tenants for the planned Rooker Properties spec buildings known as North Tampa 75 Business Center.
  7. This home in Colonial Hills neighborhood in west Pasco has been vacant for 10 years, neighbors said. A new Pasco County ordinance would require the owners of vacant and rental residences to register their properties with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. [C.T. BOWEN  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A new ordinance is supposed to aid sheriff’s deputies and code-enforcement officers dealing with rental or vacant properties.
  8. Four Tampa Bay businesses made Fortune’s list of “Most Admired Companies” in the world for 2020. Pictured is a Publix location in the Channelside district last year. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times (2019)] ["OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Four Tampa Bay businesses made Fortune’s list of “Most Admired Companies” in the world for 2020.
  9. After a spike last week, gas prices in the Sunshine State are down slightly. Pictured is the Courtney Campbell Causeway in 20098. [Times file] [CLIFFORD, DOUGLAS R.  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    Low demand and higher gas supply are bringing cheaper gas this week, experts said.
  10. Next month the Pirate Water Taxi will debut a 100-passenger vessel and two smaller taxis as part of an expansion of the company's routes and coverage of Tampa's waterfront. (Yacht StarShip) [Yacht StarShip]
    The service, owned by the operator of Yacht StarShip Dining Cruises, is investing $1.6 million in three new vessels and adding a long-desired stop near the Florida Aquarium.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement