Members of a large-scale theft ring have been charged by Federal and State prosecutors for their roles in an organization whose operations crossed state lines and caused more than $10 million in losses to retailers, according to U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson and Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor.
This week, local, state, and federal law enforcement arrested 24 defendants in Tulsa and the surrounding areas, as part of Operation Booster Buster. Five defendants remain at large.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office charged a total of 29 defendants with taking part in the largescale retail theft ring staged out of northeastern Oklahoma.
“Organized retail crime is costly to the economic well-being of our communities. This alleged retail theft ring is estimated to have caused retailers more than $10 million in losses,” said U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson. “A joint team of investigators have worked meticulously over the past several years to connect the evidence and bring this case forward for prosecution. I am thankful for their professionalism and persistence.”
“This investigation was complex, challenging, and lengthy,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said. “These are serious crimes. Organized crime is on the rise nationwide, and my office is committed to holding criminals accountable for their actions. I want to thank the state, local, and federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors for their work and partnership in this case.”
Charges were announced at a press conference Thursday. U.S. Attorney Johnson and Oklahoma Attorney General O’Connor were joined by Tulsa Chief of Police Wendell Franklin, Special Agent in Charge Christopher Miller of Homeland Security Investigations, Special Agent in Charge Christopher Altemus Jr. of IRS-Criminal Investigation, and Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado.
Stores targeted include Reasor’s, Sprouts, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, Walgreens, CVS, GNC and others.
For example, on Sept. 4, 2019, defendants Amber Clayson, Latoya Duhart and others allegedly boosted $1,329 worth of over-the-counter products, such as Flonase, Mucinex, Nexium, Zegerid, and Allegra, from a Reasor’s in Jenks, Oklahoma.
According to the federal indictment and the state’s probable cause affidavit, defendant Linda Been led the ring of “boosters” that netted $4.5 million from the sale of stolen merchandise and over-the-counter products to fencing organizations outside of Oklahoma. “Fences” then sold the stolen products through e-commerce sites, like eBay and Amazon.
Normally, fences paid Been half the market value for each item. Been, in turn, paid boosters half of her expected profit for each item they brought to her. Financial payments for stolen products were normally made through PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App, and some payments were made with drugs.
Been provided her boosters with a detailed list of items to steal and the pricing she would pay for each. She further instructed her ring on boosting techniques, including box stuffing. Box stuffing occurs when criminals conceal higher-value items inside lower-value item boxes and only paying for the lower-valued items.
Been and her team of boosters allegedly stole products from retailers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Colorado. Been would pay boosters’ expenses when they traveled outside the state. She would further pay boosters’ bond when arrested so they could continue boosting.
Boosters would then deliver the goods to predetermined locations in Tulsa, Sand Springs, and Cleveland, Oklahoma. Defendants Billy Osborne, Juston Osborne, Corey Fields, and Amanda Johnson allegedly helped manage the operation by storing stolen inventory at their residences or businesses and by prepping the merchandise for bulk shipments to fences outside the state. Been also stored stolen merchandise at her residences, prepared inventories, coordinated payment, and shipped the pallets of stolen items.
“Consumers and businesses incur a high price for thieves who commit larcenies and profit by selling their stolen goods to well organized theft rings,” said Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin. “Thieves should take notice. Tulsa is not going to capitulate and allow criminals to disrupt commerce in our city.”
“These federal indictments are a result of the tremendous work and collaboration accomplished by our trusted law enforcement partners, said Christopher Miller, acting Special Agent in Charge HSI Dallas. “It does not matter where these criminal networks operate and sell their illegally acquired goods. We will work without end to ensure those involved are investigated and brought to justice.”
The investigation into the retail theft ring began in 2019 when an organized crime investigator from a pharmacy retailer shared information with Tulsa Police Detectives about bulk thefts at their Tulsa area locations. Investigators linked several boosters in the Tulsa area to Been and her son, state defendant Curtis Leon Gann Jr. They also noted that Been and Gann Jr. were allegedly selling over-the-counter medications, along with other commonly stolen items on their eBay accounts.
The Tulsa Police Department reached out to lead investigator Agent Thomas Helm with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office. Once it was determined that crimes linked to Been’s retail theft organization also occurred in surrounding states, a federal investigation was launched.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, Tulsa Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and IRS Criminal Investigation joined forces to lead Operation Booster Buster. HSI Task Force Officers from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office also joined in the investigation.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Tulsa Police Department, Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, and Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Richard M. Cella and Reagan V. Reininger are prosecuting the case on behalf of the federal government. Senior Deputy Attorney General Joy Thorp and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Dane Towery are prosecuting the case on behalf of the state of Oklahoma.
*A “booster” is a person who steals goods and merchandise, specifically, but not limited to OTC from retail stores.
* A “fence” or “fencing operation” is a person, organization or entity that purchases or receives stolen goods and merchandise from boosters. The fence or fencing operation then re-sells the stolen goods and merchandise to third parties.