Dozens arrested, including 12-year-old, in Polk County theft ring



POLK COUNTY, Fla. - Polk County Sheriff's Office deputies said they arrested 41 people within two days during an investigation into an organized retail theft ring.

Sheriff Grady Judd held a news conference Friday to announce the arrests.

Judd said the thieves were hitting popular stores and supermarkets, and are considered career criminals.

Judd said the people arrested were behind other crime in the community.

The youngest person arrested was 12 years old, and the oldest was 67 years old.

Deputies said the thieves were hitting stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Walmart and Publix.

Judd said that of those arrested, 18 were receiving some sort of government aid or public assistance, and that 32 of them have criminal histories.

He also said some of them are accused of stealing personal property as well.

"They're not just misdemeanor shoplifters. They're the same ones in your neighborhoods stealing in your backyards, stealing in your homes, committing all kinds of criminal activity," Judd said.

Judd said one of the people arrested, Willie White Jr., has been arrested 40 times before, including on charges of sexual battery.

White was also getting public assistance.

“I don’t hear it from the government bureaucrats, but I certainly hear it from the community, who is working hard and paying taxes. They’re outraged,” Judd said.

Residents said they were glad the alleged shoplifters were caught.

“They need to get in trouble,” said Roderick Burgess. “That’s ridiculous. It’s pathetic they do stuff like that.”

Investigators said many of the people who were arrested had the money in their pockets to pay for the items they were stealing, and they said the accused shoplifters were shocked when they were caught.

Deputies said most of the suspects expected to just be given a notice to appear in court.

To read the list of people arrested and their charges, click here.