Cops bust baby formula theft ring
VICTORIA Police has uncovered a huge stash of baby formula and vitamins packed inside a stolen truck, a week after officers in NSW found a similar collection of the coveted items worth a whopping $215,000.
Earlier this week detectives received a burglary report from a warehouse in the Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley.
Police found a large truck filled with 15 pallets of baby formula and vitamins yesterday morning less than an hour away in Laverton that was allegedly linked to the same burglary.
Three men were arrested at the scene and charged with allegedly stealing the baby formula and vitamins, worth more than $160,000.
An Ardeer man, 36, was charged with 12 burglaries, a 31-year-old Newport man has been charged with six burglaries and a St Albans man, 23, has been charged with two burglaries.
The investigation was part a major sting into large commercial burglaries since April.
The Victorian bust comes a week after NSW Police arrested a woman they allege was running a shoplifting syndicate responsible for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods.
Police removed more than 4000 baby formula tins, multiple boxes of vitamins, Manuka honey and powered toothbrushes from two Carlingford homes in the west of Sydney last week.
Cash totalling more than $215,000 was found hidden throughout one of the homes and is allegedly the proceeds of crime.
Police believe a 48-year-old woman accused of running the network had at least 12 people under her wing sourcing the items - which are all highly sought after in China.
Most baby formula retails in Australia for $20 to $35 dollars a tin but it can sell for more than double that in China.
Chinese parents have sourced safer overseas products after a series of local formula scares in recent years.
Detectives estimate the Sydney group stole more than $250,000 worth of baby formula this year, Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said.
"It's one of those unusual cases," Mr Doherty told Channel 9. "We hear about the thefts as isolated incidents but this time we've focused on the syndicate as a receiving group."
The syndicate's accused ringleader was bailed on strict conditions ahead of an expected appearance at Burwood Local Court on September 17.
She was charged with knowingly direct activities of criminal group, knowingly participate in criminal group assist crime, three counts of participate criminal group contribute criminal activity, and recklessly deal with proceeds of crime.
A 53-year-old man arrested with the woman on Wednesday evening was released without charge.
Police expect to arrest more members of the network.
Demand for Australia's baby formula is so extreme many Chinese families employ personal shoppers living in the country, known as "daigou", to buy and send them tins.
Some of the formula bought by daigou is packaged and sent back home to China while other shoppers advertise online and profit that way.
Daigou have been known to sell tins of baby formula for up to $200 each to desperate buyers, and pocket the hefty profits.
Coles and Woolworths also enforce a rule of two tins per customer at many of their stores.
Reports of baby formula theft have become so common some supermarkets even resorted to keeping tins behind the counter.
In December, Victoria Police cracked a separate black-market baby formula ring, arresting seven people after they found hundreds of tins of milk powder.
Officers raided properties at Richmond, Sunshine and Braybrook in Melbourne on November 30, uncovering more than $300,000 worth of allegedly stolen property including baby formula and beauty products as well as about $500,000 cash.
- With Wires