Baby formula targeted by thieves

By Dave O'Brien | staff writer Published:

Powdered baby formula, fed to infants across the country every day, has become a target for thieves in retail stores.

Prized for its high demand and therefore high resale value and as a tool in the illegal drug trade, it allegedly was the target of a Tallmadge woman now facing charges that she stole more than $12,000 worth of powdered formula from two different Walmart stores last fall.

A Portage County grand jury recently indicted Stacy A. Smith, 24, of Beachler Road, on three counts of theft, one fourth-degree felony and two fifth-degree felonies, and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, all first-degree misdemeanors. She also faces felony theft and robbery charges in two other nearby counties.

Smith allegedly stole 194 containers of Similac baby formula, worth $3,207, from the Brimfield Walmart store on Sept. 24, 2013, according to Brimfield police. A juvenile with her pushed the cart out of the store, got into a dark colored SUV and drove off, police said.

In a second incident, Smith allegedly stole another 77 containers of baby formula, worth $1,176, from the same store on Oct. 7, 2013, also using the child to push the cart out of the store, according to Brimfield police.

Smith allegedly stole 474 cans of baby formula, worth $7,909, from the Streetsboro Walmart on Oct. 14, 2013, according to Streetsboro police. Two children helped her steal the items, according to a police report of the incident.

A jury trial on those charges is scheduled to begin in Portage County Common Pleas Judge Laurie Pittman's courtroom on Sept. 23, according to court records.

A 12.4 oz. can of Similac brand formula retails for approximately $15 to $16 at Walmart. Brimfield Police Chief David Oliver said powdered baby formula can be used to "cut" illegal drugs to dilute their purity while increasing their volume, allowing for a higher profit margin for drug dealers.

Baby formula also is a target of large retail theft rings, who can get a good resale price for it on the black market or on websites such as Craigslist.com, Oliver said. Some offenders have made what amounts to a "career" out of retail theft, Oliver said.

"We often get that, where someone will steal from our Walmart and we'll hear from the Walmart staff they've been banned from Walmarts in other towns," he said.

In the first eight days of August alone, there were eight listings for baby formula under the "baby & kid stuff" for sale tab on the Akron/Canton page of Craigslist.com. The going rate for cans there was $10.

Brevard County, Florida, authorities announced just last month that they arrested approximately 20 people who stole $1 million to $2 million worth of baby formula for two ringleaders who then re-sold it to wholesalers, according to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper. Police dubbed the investigation "Operation Got Milk."

Oregon authorities reported a similar scam in April 2013 in which undercover police officers caught several people stealing formula from dozens of Oregon grocery stores and selling it online, according to an April 30, 2013, article in The (Portland) Oregonian.

Some stores have taken to putting formula behind the counter or under lock and key, as some already do with cigarettes or alcohol.

Smith also is scheduled to be sentenced in Summit County Common Pleas Court after pleading guilty to a charge of robbery, a second-degree felony, on Aug. 19. That charge stems from an incident on May 4, 2013, in Tallmadge during which Smith stole a $48 bottle of cognac from the Acme Fresh Market store at 600 South Ave., punched a female security guard who confronted her and fled in a waiting SUV, police Lt. Ron Williams said.

Smith also is charged with theft, a fifth-degree felony, in Medina County Common Pleas Court after she allegedly stole more than $1,000 worth of merchandise from a Walmart store there on Oct. 9, 2013, according to court records. A jury trial in that case is scheduled to begin Aug. 12, records show.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1128 or dobrien@recordpub.com

Facebook: Dave O'Brien, Record-Courier

Twitter: @RCCrimeWatch

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