Oklahoma Authorities Break Shoplifting Ring

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma County prosecutors have charged four Mexican nationals with concealing stolen property and larceny of merchandise from a retailer for their alleged roles in a baby formula shoplifting ring.

Diana Savalo, 25; Pearla Visnaga, 19; Arsenio Ramirez Tepozotlan, 33; and Oscar Ramirez Topozetlan, 26, are accused of stealing 1,797 cans of baby formula, according to probable cause affidavits.

The group was shipping about 2,000 pounds of baby formula to Kentucky every two weeks, court records show.

The four were observed by police officers going into several stores and taking baby formula without paying, according to court papers. The suspects were hoarding the formula in a storage unit in northeast Oklahoma City, officials said.

Law enforcement officials said infant formula theft has been a problem in other states, like Texas. The shoplifting rings have been profitable for organized crime nationwide, and some of the proceeds may be going to groups with ties to terrorism, officials said.

Shawn Brown, assistant director of vendor management with the state Health Department, said infant formula theft is being repackaged and sold on the black market.

"I hear stores are losing thousands of dollars at a time," Brown said. "There are instances in Oklahoma where people are stealing grocery carts full of formula."