NEW ORLEANS — The National Retail Federation’s Law Enforcement Retail Partnership Award was presented Thursday to several Houston-based and federal investigators responsible for cracking an organized retail crime ring targeting over-the-counter medications and health and beauty products at CVS/Caremark and Walgreen’s as well as other retailers.
The award, announced at NRF’s Loss Prevention Conference and Expo here, is given annually to individuals who exhibit “exemplary dedication and investigative skills in solving retail crimes,” said NRF in a statement.
The 2012 recipients were: Kebharu Smith, assistant U.S. attorney, Department of Justice — Houston Office; and the following employees of Immigration Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations: Armando Astorga, group supervisor; Juan Pagan, special agent; Terry Muise, special agent; Matt Wood, special agent; and Georgina Cervantes, intelligence research analyst.
The case originated in July 2009 at several CVS/Caremark and Walgreen’s Houston stores, where organized retail crime investigators noticed an uptick in criminal activity. An investigation uncovered a high-level fence operation based in Houston, led by a person “who aggressively recruited and paid illegal immigrants (mostly Central Americans) to travel to pharmacies throughout the continental U.S. and steal massive amounts of over-the-counter medications and health and beauty products,” the NRF said. These booster crews were provided vehicles with GPS devices programmed with targeted store addresses throughout the country.
Over the course of the investigation, federal agents and investigators found approximately $20 million worth of stolen retail merchandise that had been illicitly purchased and sold. More than 75 suspects were identified and linked to the operation, including 40 boosters, many of whom were deported by U.S. Custom officials.