St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

3 held in theft of baby formula

Published March 27, 2007


WESLEY CHAPEL - In the annals of crime, there was "Baby Face" Nelson, who stole money from banks.

Now comes grocer Publix, warning the world of a new breed of baby-leaning crook.

Baby formula bandits.

"An organized retail crime ring" has kept the Publix on S Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa from keeping its shelves fully stocked at all times, says a notice posted on the baby food aisle. Needy parents are directed to the customer service counter.

Cans of formula such as Similac, which may sell for $25 each, can be marked up and fenced on Internet black markets, according to the National Retail Federation. An FBI assistant director told a congressional subcommittee last year that the retail industry loses between $15-billion and $30-billion annually from stolen items such as infant formula, over-the-counter medication and beauty supplies.

Saturday, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office arrested three people who authorities suspect hit at least two bay area stores.

The thefts were videotaped on March 17, when 18 cans of formula worth about $380 vanished from a Zephyrhills Publix, sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said. Security cameras show two women using frozen food aisles to camouflage the transfer of baby formula into handbags.

A Publix loss prevention supervisor put other area stores on alert.

Saturday, witnesses say, a man wearing a gray shirt and dark pants and a woman wearing a light blue shirt walked toward the baby formula section at the Publix at 5400 County Road 581 in Wesley Chapel. The man loaded cans of formula into a shopping cart, and the woman pushed it down the aisle until she met another woman.

One woman pulled out two fur bags. She filled the purses, put a stuffed toy on top of the goods and walked out with 12 Similac cans worth $302, sheriff's records state.

Publix employees called the Sheriff's Office. Deputies pulled over a silver Ford pickup carrying three suspects:

Selvin Alfredo Ponce-Hernandez, 28, was charged with retail theft over $300 and driving with an expired driver's license. Brenda Vargas, 31, faces charges of grand theft and retail theft over $300. Catalina A. Garcia, 46, was charged with two counts of retail theft over $300 and giving false identification to a law enforcement officer.

The Lakeland trio remains jailed pending bail and Immigration and Customs Enforcement intervention.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or

[Last modified March 26, 2007, 22:18:46]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters