TAMPA — Authorities say they have broken up two retail theft rings based in Tampa that spanned 14 Florida counties and reached as far as Cuba.
Seven people were arrested and hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen merchandise was recovered in an operation involving the Hillsborough and Polk County Sheriff’s Offices, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the Attorney General.
“Retail theft is not a victimless crime,” Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a news conference Tuesday. “It impacts businesses and us as consumers. The actions of these criminals directly contributes to you paying more at the register.”
The Sheriff’s Office began investigating the first of the two rings in June.
The ring was based in a home at 2611 E. Emma St. and headed by 39-year-old Lee York of Tampa, the Sheriff’s Office said. Authorities recovered 50 boxes of diapers, packages of paper towels and toilet paper, and several new tools stolen in 26 thefts.
York has been charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. He has 21 previous felony convictions, the Sheriff’s Office.
Also arrested were Samya Harris, 20, of Jacksonville, and Pernell Bethell, 35, Clarence Walters, 64, Ronald West, 42, and Konaa Engram, 30, all of Tampa.
The Sheriff’s Office began investigating the second ring in July after receiving a tip from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The ring was based in a home at 3009 W. Crest Ave. and led by Jose Valdivia-Quinones, 45, of Tampa. Authorities seized more than 11,000 pairs of brand name shoes, over 500 bottles of cologne, professional electric-hair trimming razors, clothing, more than 20 Michael Kors purses, and Rolex and other watches.
The value of the items was estimated at $180,000, Chronister said. They were shipped via mail to locations as far away as Cuba.
“Apparently there is a tremendous markup to items that are able to be sold overseas," Chronister said.
Valdivia-Quinones paid those stealing for him with crack, Chronister said. He has been charged with dealing in stolen property and maintaining a dwelling for drug use.
Stores hit by the crime rings included CVS, Publix and Ross, Chronister said.