Twenty-nine people are charged in a multi-state theft ring that investigators say was run here in Tulsa and cost stores more than $10 million dollars in losses.
The U.S. Attorney's Office and Oklahoma Attorney Generals' office announced the charges on Thursday and say the thieves profited nearly $5 million dollars from stealing and selling stolen products. The U.S. Attorney's Office says this investigation started in 2019 when a Tulsa Police detective investigated a shoplifting case. That case opened the door to what investigators are calling a criminal enterprise.
Investigators say Linda Been was the woman in charge of the whole theft ring. They say she'd hire people to steal millions of dollars worth of products from stores, and would hire other people to sell or store the stolen loot. They say Been told the people involved, what to steal, what store to go to, how to steal the items and where to take everything. They say she even paid for travel expenses for people to steal from other states.
"The prosecution of these defendants sends the strong message, that Oklahoma supports our retailers, and that we are tough on crime. We all pay more for items because of the theft from these thieves,” said Attorney General John O'Connor.
Investigators say the stolen products which were mostly over-the-counter drugs, were sold in bulk on either eBay or Amazon. They say if anyone was caught, Been would bond them out of jail so they could keep stealing and wouldn't talk to the police.
"To some retail theft is considered a harmless crime. but whether boosting products for resale, smashing and grabbing, or employee fraud, retail crime threatens employee safety, it erodes consumer confidence and ultimately leads to higher prices,” said acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson.
Investigators say one time, people working for Been stole $3,400 worth of products from a Tulsa Target. They say another time they stole $7,500 in product from a Texas Costco and $4,300 in products from a Broken Arrow Walgreens.
"Crime is crime and property crimes intersect with violent crime,” said Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin.
Chief Franklin says while these arrests are great, the bigger problem is our current laws don't have enough teeth to stop the daily theft and he calls on legislators to make changes.
"This has led to a culture of brazen theft in your face theft, that has occurred not only here locally, but across our nation,” said Franklin. "These types of criminal organizations are going to continue to appear, they are going to grow and flourish."
Investigators say Been admitted to running the operation since 2018. This investigation was a team effort between TPD's Retail Crimes Unit, the OK Attorney General's office, U.S. Attorney's Office, and Homeland Security Investigations.