Multi-million dollar theft ring targets Northeast Florida Walmart stores in stolen TV scheme

FLORIDA — Action News Jax’s Stephanie Bennett is working to learn how much was taken from our local stores. Watch live updates at 5 on CBS47/FOX30.

A group is accused of defrauding approximately $3.6 million from Walmart stores across the country, including five counties in Northeast Florida, during a fraud scheme involving television returns.

A multi-agency investigation revealed that the group from Georgia would use cash to buy large, expensive televisions from a Walmart store, remove the new TVs from the box and replace them with salvaged TVs, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said.

Members of the group would then return the salvaged TVs for cash, while reselling the new and stolen televisions.

The criminal activity of selling the stolen televisions has been going on since at least 2014, based on evidence gathered during an investigation.

Authorities said the crimes were committed in 13 different states within the U.S.

The group defrauded Walmart stores in the following 39 Florida counties: Alachua, Bay, Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Okaloosa, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sumter, Volusia, Walton, and Washington.

The investigation in Florida began in August of 2019 at a Walmart store in Auburndale when detectives were alerted of three men “conducting suspicious merchandise returns.” Walmart investigators told them that the suspects went to several Walmarts in Polk County to return TVs for cash refunds.

The investigation eventually led to the identity of the following suspects: Jorge Robert Ortiz, 26, Chanthan Scott Khouleanghak, 39, Jacorri Bentez Holland, 36, Michelle Maki Walker, 30, and Eric Eugene Grigsby, 48.

PCSO said Ortiz and Khouleanghak have been arrested, but Holland and Walker remain at large.

Authorities said Grigsby died of natural causes.

PCSO said there could be more people involved. Investigators are working to identify three additional suspects.

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