Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor stated he plans to prosecute "...to the fullest extent of the law." courtesy oag.ok.gov

Oklahoma retail theft ring busted

A complex system of shoplifting and reselling stolen goods was unearthed by state and federal authorities.

On Jan. 14, over two dozen people were charged for partaking in a retail theft ring that was based in Northeastern Oklahoma and spanned over at least five states. Merchandise amounting to millions of dollars was stolen from stores and sold out of state through illegal operations dating back to 2016.

The complex ring involved organized shoplifters called boosters stealing products and over-the-counter medicine from stores, then selling them to fencers outside of Oklahoma, often for half the price. The fencers gained profit by reselling the stolen goods through e-commerce sites such as eBay and Amazon. The group allegedly stole over $10 million in retail products and turned a profit of $4.5 million.

Retail chains such as Target, Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, Walgreens, CVS, Akin’s Natural Foods, GNC, Reasor’s and Sprouts were victims of theft from the highly organized group. Boosters were sent to towns such as Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Norman, Edmond, Moore, Owasso, Claremore and Jenks to lift products off the shelves. They also expanded past Oklahoma state lines and conducted illegal business in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado.

Drugs targeted by the shoplifters included Allegra, Prevagen, Zantac, Rogaine, Zyrtec, Viviscal, Mucinex, Claritin, Culturelle, Flonase, Nasacort and vitamins. Cosmetic products and tooth-whitening strips were also commonly boosted items.

The Tulsa Police Department announced that 29 participants are facing 215 federal charges including racketeering, conspiracy to commit a felony, conspiracy to commit money laundering, larceny from a retailer, receiving stolen property, violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act, unlawful proceeds, wire fraud and concealing a crime. Five defendants are still outstanding.

Linda Been is the accused ringleader of the operation. Court documents state she would give the boosters a list of items to steal with the corresponding prices that she would pay for each item. She then paid the boosters for their services through PayPal, Venmo, Cash App and sometimes in drugs. As the boosters often stole from out-of-state retailers, Been would pay their travel expenses as well as their bonds when arrested.

A small group of defendants by the names of Billy Osborne, Juston Osborne, Corey Fields and Amanda Johnson have been charged with assisting in the management of the operation by storing merchandise at their residences and businesses while prepping the stolen goods for bulk shipments to fencers. C&B Welding and Fabrication, owned by the Osbornes and Fields, was allegedly a storage hub and shipping point for stolen goods. Johnson’s business, Suburban Revival Boutique, was allegedly used to store and prepare the items for resale. Both businesses are located in Sand Springs.

The investigation into the unlawful organization began in 2019 after an organized crime investigator with CVS Health, Hector Leal, detected a trend of specific items being thefted in bulk. Leal was able to link Been and several boosters to the criminal activity using open-source records and sales on eBay. Kayla Johnson, a detective in Tulsa, had been investigating an aggressive shoplifting case involving Been when she began connecting prior cases involving Been’s group.

“As the investigation developed, TPD and OAG [Oklahoma Attorney General] investigators determined that several theft crimes… in surrounding states were linked to [Been’s retail theft organization],” the affidavit states. “A federal investigation with Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office was initiated.”

Post Author: Shelby Hiens