VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - The sheriff's offices in Volusia and Seminole counties worked together to put behind bars five men suspected in a giant retailer theft ring.
The five men, including three brothers, are accused of stealing $10,00 a month from Walmart, Target and Publix stores, and a sports retail store, in both counties.
Authorities believe the operation started in 2013, but the Volusia County Sheriff's Office investigation began in October 2016 after it received a shoplifting call at a Deltona Walmart.
The same method would be repeated each time at different retailers: two men would fill the shopping cart with Tide laundry detergent products, Gain products and 3 22-pound bags of Purina cat food.
The estimated total cost of the items stolen is $360,000, deputies said.
Deputies believe the men stole the property to sell to a local fence for resale, the men are alleged to have been trading property for drugs.
“The best way to fuel crime is to start with retail theft. That money is going somewhere, whether it goes overseas … or it’s going for drugs,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said. “I’m very proud of our detectives, working with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, and the work that went into this investigation.”
Seminole County Sheriff’s Office Chief Dan Purcell also spoke Wednesday about the arrests. “We’re very pleased at the results of this operation," he said. "We appreciate our relationship with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. We still have some open investigations that we’re still looking at and we hope to bring those to fruition in the coming months.”
Francesco Mazella, 35, is charged with racketeering, conspiracy to engage in pattern of racketeering activity, four counts of dealing in stolen property, delivery of cocaine, and three counts of delivery of oxycodone. He is held at the Volusia County Branch Jail on $140,000 bail.
The three brothers-- 24-year-old Dalton Black, 26-year-old Austin Black, and 27-year-old Brandon Black -- are charged with racketeering and conspiracy to engage in pattern of racketeering activity.
Joseph Gonzalez-Cruz, 28, of Winter Park, is charged with one count of dealing in stolen property. He’s held at the Seminole County jail on $10,000 bail.
Howard Proano-Tello, 26, is still at large, deputies said.
He will be charged with racketeering, conspiracy to engage in pattern of racketeering activity, grand theft and four counts of dealing in stolen property. His bail will be $110,000.
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