MARSHALL COUNTY, KY - An accused international trafficking ring busted at a local Walmart, and the loot? Not drugs, not jewelry, this criminal network is interested in one thing.... baby formula. Now four people are in a local jail, and police say they are likely just a piece of a large criminal network that stretched from Texas to Kentucky.
Baby formula may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of international criminal conspiracies, but police say its worth big bucks on the black market.
Maria Arisa, Alejandro Hernandez, Juan Raso, and Yolanda Tramirez appeared in a Marshall County court Wednesday for a pretrial conference. They're charged with theft and receiving stolen property. Sheriff's deputies say the four worked together to steal several cans of baby formula from the Benton Walmart.
This was a joint effort by law enforcement and regular shoppers including one woman who followed the suspects in her car and led deputies straight to them. Local 6 spoke with that woman. She said at the time she just didn't think it was fair for anyone to get away with not paying, but she didn't want to appear on camera because she says now news of an international trafficking ring has her scared for her own safety.
Investigators identify the woman in Walmart surveillance video as Maria Arisa. They say the shopper wearing the orange shirt watched as Arisa placed cans of baby formula in her purse. After that they say Juan Raso placed several more cans of formula under his jacket. Sheriff's deputies arrested four suspects they say are part of an international crime ring. "This was going on all the way between Texas to Kentucky, maybe even further on," Marshall County Sheriff's Deputy Dennis Lewis said.
Investigators say the four suspects are from Texas and admitted to deputies that they planned to send the formula to Mexico. Trafficking in baby formula is on the rise across the country. "This has gone on in Florida recently, Ohio, where actual truckloads, tractor-trailer loads of Enfamil and baby formula have been stolen," Lewis said.
A search of the suspect's vehicle found more than a thousand cans of baby formula. Deputies say the suspects admitted most were stolen from Walmarts in several states, but when asked to name others involved the suspects said the Mexican Mafia would kill their families if they talked. "We believe it's more of a wide incident going on, probably several people involved," Lewis said.
Investigators say while the trend is growing nationwide, this is the first bust of it's kind locally, and they hope the arrests send a message to would-be thieves. "There are people out there who are not going to stand by and let something like this happen," Lewis said.
Deputies tell me they suspect at least three of these suspects are in the United States illegally, and the Commonwealth's Attorney will be working with immigration officials to explore possible deportation.
An investigator with the company Enfamil has also contacted sheriff's deputies about this case. Deputies say based on Enfamil's suggestion they intend to pass along information to the FBI to see if it matches similar incidents across the country.