Wal-Mart arrests lead to theft ring


Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:14 p.m.

An alert store security officer in Lake City is being credited with helping to crack a major theft ring apparently operating in Florida and Georgia.

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MARK HUDSON

Columbia County Jail

The case has even led investigators to a pair of guns stolen from law enforcement officers in Ocala.

Bob Mills, a security officer at the Wal-Mart Supercenter on U.S. 90 in Lake City, was able to figure out how one of 10 teams of thieves stole more than $7,000 in CDs and DVDs.

Lake City Police Lt. Joe Moody said Mills was working Dec. 28 when a man and woman - later identified as 37-year-old Georgia residents Mark Hudson and Donna King - walked into the store separately and did not appear to notice each other. Moody said King was carrying what appeared to be a beach bag or large purse made of fabric.

"She would load that thing down, and it could hold several hundred DVDs or CDs," Moody said.

Police say that, while Hudson was paying for one CD or DVD, King would begin to make her way to the exit. The couple reportedly walked out the door at the same time and the security devices attached to the items in King's purse would set off the alarm, according to police.

"So he [Hudson] would turn around and say it was him - that he had just bought the CD or DVD and he would walk back in and have it deactivated," Moody said.

Police said that shortly after the pair left the store, Mills noticed a lot of merchandise missing. When the couple walked back into the store about 20 minutes later, Mills was watching them, Moody said.

"They probably came right back because they thought it was so easy the first time," Moody said. "Now we know Bob Mills and that, when he calls, there's something going on, so when they walked out the second time, we were all over them. He's the reason why we got them."

The arrests of Hudson and King on grand theft charges led police to what they say is a large operation that quickly became a federal criminal case.

Moody said that by Wednesday, seven other people had been arrested and officers had seized $20,000 in cash, $100,000 in apparently stolen merchandise, six vehicles and four stolen guns, including two stolen from law enforcement in Ocala.

"This is a big ring," Moody said. "There are 10 teams of two people each, and we have been told that it operates from South Carolina down through Florida. These teams would meet periodically with the leaders of the schemes in Tampa or Orlando or Ocala."

Moody said that, in addition to stealing from stores, the couples pose as husbands and wives and go doctor-shopping - making appointments with doctors and faking conditions that convince doctors to prescribe narcotics, which are then sold.

"It's all about the money," Moody said.

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