Fox 17 Investigates: 'Boosters' turn shoplifting into lucrative business
NASHVILLE, Tenn. —
Boosting is organized retail crime, and it's shoplifting on steroids.
The $30 billion industry affects every retailer in the country, and you're paying for it. Until three years ago, a booster, identified as Bobby made a nice living stealing from like Kroger, Walmart, Lowes and others.
"I was very successful at it," Bobby said. "I did it for 25-plus years. In a year's time, probably several hundred thousand [dollars]. I should be in prison, I mean at some point I really should have been."
Bobby was a prolific thief. Police call people like him 'boosters.'
"This is how they make their living," Goodlettsville Police Detective Les Carlisle said. "They go in places and steal large quantities and primarily they steal to re-sell,"
Carlisle spends a great deal of time trying to crack down on what he refers to as organized retail crime.
It starts at a neighborhood stores. Boosters target expensive merchandise like wine and beer, over the counter medicines in the pharmacy, razor blades, meats, shampoo even laundry detergent.
"He's gonna come down the aisle here and as you watch he's found his product of choice," Rome Baker, Kroger loss prevention expert.
Baker showed surveillance video of a booster stealing hundreds of dollars worth of Tide laundry detergent at a local store in October. Kroger and other retailers have security cameras, but Baker said boosters are brazen.
The booster who took the Tide avoided cameras in the parking lot and made a clean get-a-way.
Bobby said all that detergent is headed to a flea market or a privately-owned convenience store where the owner knowingly buys stolen merchandise for about fifty cents on the dollar.
"Let's say Tide went for $20," Bobby said. "I'd probably sell it for $8-$10 depending on how many they bought."
The National Retail Federation said it's a huge problem. A recent survey finds 83 percent of businesses surveyed say it's getting worse.
Bobby said he quit boosting after a religious conversion. He's now working with Kroger and police to set up businesses who buy from boosters.
"They may say 'well I didn't know' because they don't want to get in trouble, but the fact is they do know," Bobby said. "There's no way in this world they don't know this stuff is stolen."
A new state law that went into effect this Summer is helping too. It allows police to confiscate everything at a business that knowingly buys and sells stolen merchandise.
Boosting includes fuel too. Goodlettsville Police recently caught a couple in the act of stealing hundreds of gallons of diesel in this custom-made van. Police said the couple pulled over a port in the parking lot, lift a trap door on the floor, insert a hose, turn on a battery-operated pump and fill up.
"At the end of the day, somebody has to pay for everything that's still left on the shelves and that's all of us," said a Kroger manager who works undercover and asked to remain anonymous.
Bobby said he had so many fences he eventually took orders and stole from a list. He believes one retailer, Pilot Flying J headquartered in Knoxville, stopped selling certain items because he stole them so often.