BUSINESS

Huge Shoplifting Operation In Austin Caught Stealing Paper Towels, Tide Detergent

04/03/2012 02:55 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2012

Razors, Aveeno lotion, Revlon nail polish, Tide detergent, and Scunci rhinestone hair clips?

No, this isn't your teenage daughter's prom shopping list. It's the spoils of a eight person shoplifting ring based out of Austin, Texas. The ring stole $50,000 worth of goods over the past year, most of them basic household items, from stores in the Austin area, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

The ring leader, Maria Patricia Villegas, commissioned accomplices to steal from stores like Target and grocery chain H-E-B, paying them cash for the products. She would then resell the goods at local flea markets and smuggle them to Mexico for resale.

A law enforcement official quoted by the Statesman says this may be the "largest fencing operation of this type" in the state and possibly the country.

Stolen goods included batteries, Tide detergent (currently the "it" brand for black marketers) and shampoo, the Statesman reported. At the press conference at police headquarters, local TV station KVUE captured footage of nail polish, lotion, hair clips and paper towels that had also been stolen.

When police searched Villegas's home on Friday, they found $35,000 worth of stolen goods, police officer Dustin Smart told the Statesman. Police began their undercover investigation of Villegas at the beginning of March by pretending to be thieves looking to break into the ring. So far, officers have arrested six of Villegas's accomplices.

Though it might have been the biggest, Villegas's ring isn't unique. In Tampa Bay, Florida, a ring of thieves recently took Crest white strips and Rogaine from Target stores for resale. In Seattle it was razor blades, batteries and cheap perfume that they wanted. In Prince George County, Maryland, police seized $125,000 worth of merchandise at a barber shop, including the ubiquitous Tide detergent.

Some shoplifting rings have gone as far as to target groceries. Earlier this year also in Austin, police busted a meat theft ring that stole from grocer H-E-B, taking prime cuts of beef that they would resell to local restaurants.

Organized retail crime is on the rise, according to the National Retail Federation. In its annual survey on the subject in June 2011, the Federation found that 94.5 percent of retailers had been targeted by shoplifting rings in the year prior. Nearly 85 percent of the companies also believed that organized theft was on the rise overall.

For stores, this type of crime is extremely costly: H-E-B, the chain targeted both by the meat thieves and by Villegas's gang, reported losing $10,000 worth of shampoo during the month of January, according to the affidavit filed in Texas court.

Check out the haul below:

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