HAZEL PARK, Mich. - Police say a 7,600-square-foot warehouse served as the business hub for a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar theft ring that stole items from southeastern Michigan retailers and resold them on the Internet.
Veteran investigators said the shoplifting ring, which swiped as much as $15,000 a day in over-the-counter drugs and other goods from area stores, is the largest they have ever seen.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard called the illegal business "amazing in size and scope" and one that likely operated for years before drug investigators spotted it last month.
The ring operators stored stolen items in the warehouse and sold them on the Internet through eBay, Amazon.com and other sites, investigators said.
Bouchard said the investigation so far shows three women served as the shoplifters, stealing high-value items like cold medicine, antacids and other over-the-counter drugs from local CVS and Walgreens pharmacies. They were given shopping lists of which items to target, Bouchard said.
Using specially modified clothes to conceal their haul, they could steal between $9,000 and $15,000 each day, deliver it to the warehouse and be paid $2,500 a day in cash for their efforts, he said.
Inside the warehouse, investigators found $75,000 in cash, about $30,000 in merchandise from CVS and Walgreens, $10,000 in items stolen from other stores and more than $3 million in perfumes, lotions and creams stolen from Victoria's Secret in Las Vegas.
"I guess what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas because now it's in Hazel Park," Bouchard said.
Charged with running the ring were:
— Shah Khalish, 28, of Hazel Park
— Delwar Miah, 23, of Detroit
— April Cooper, 29, of Warren
— Sandra Clark, 47, of Warren
— Shantell Collins, 24, of Detroit.
All were released on bond after being charged with organized retail crime and receiving and concealing stolen property, felonies with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Detectives from the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team started the investigation thinking the women were stealing the medicines to turn them into methamphetamine. The team is a partnership among the sheriff and police agencies across the county.
As the detectives watched them operate, they discovered they were involved in stealing on a massive scale, Bouchard said.
"They bought this warehouse about nine months ago for $200,000 in cash," the sheriff said. "They were generating enough cash that they could plunk down $200,000 in cash to buy a facility to expand their operations."
Ferndale Police Chief Tim Collins, whose department is part of the narcotics team, said he was stunned when he saw what was in the warehouse.
"It was clean and tidy and well-run," he said.
The stolen items were sorted and stacked on shelves. The warehouse even included a second level where merchandise was sold and a lift-truck that was used to move things around.
Bouchard said the investigation is continuing.