From the Palm Beach Post-
STUART — Seven people suspected of participating in a baby formula theft ring were arrested between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, all charged with dealing in stolen property.The dealers using the cans sounds like something right out of a television crime drama. I can understand the use for smuggling, but why would there be a market for stolen baby formula?
The arrests came after a tip from a confidential informant sparked surveillance by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find out who was stealing large quantities of baby formula from grocery and retail stores throughout the Treasure Coast.
"This just kind of rolled up on us," said Rich Piccininni, special agent in charge of FDLE's regional office in Fort Pierce. "We learned more and more about this as we went along, and we're still getting new details."
Piccininni said the group stole more than 1,700 cans of formula - about $48,000 worth - and may have planned to send them to North Carolina or another state nearby.
An informant told investigators that the group on Wednesday was planning to steal formula from a Hobe Sound Winn-Dixie, then head to the Publix at Wedgewood Commons in Stuart to steal more. FDLE agents contacted the store manager at Publix while two men and two women were still inside the store. He confronted them and they ran, getting into a car and driving off before they could be captured.
The agents and Martin County sheriff's deputies, with help from the informant, were able to track the group to the Suburban Lodge and follow them to a storage facility, where agents saw them loading cans of baby formula into a storage unit.
Sheriff's deputies then stepped in and arrested them. They have been identified as Rosa Padilla Valladeres, 44, Luis Rolando Valle-Flores, 30, Oscar Geovanny Milla Cartagena, 29, and Elsa Rivera-Hernandez, 21. All four gave addresses in Wallace, N.C., when they were arrested.
Piccininni said agents arrested Hilda Hernandez, 26, Rosa Lopez, 34 and Miguel Gomez, 26, Thursday morning. All seven were being held at the Martin County jail Thursday night without bail.
Baby formula in recent years has become a hot black market item, according to federal law enforcement authorities. Over the years, federal investigators have arrested people suspected of making millions selling stolen formula.
Officials so far this year have uncovered theft rings with links to Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas. On the Treasure Coast, five women were arrested in Port St. Lucie in 2004 when surveillance footage caught them hiding cans of formula in their purses.
Most of the stolen baby food is repackaged and sold, which health experts say poses a potential danger to infants. Drug dealers also sometimes use the powdered formula to cut cocaine.
Anyone care to enlighten me.
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