Chandler shoplifting arrest led to nationwide baby formula theft ring investigation

CHANDLER, Ariz. (FOX 10) -- Chandler Police are calling it one of the biggest organized retail theft rings they have ever seen, as more than a dozen people have been arrested, accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of baby formula for sale on the black market.

It started with a small shoplifting arrest, and now, this massive coast-to-coast investigation has Homeland Security involved. The man facing charges said buying formula and selling it was a "hobby" of his, but the allegations say that it was a lot more complex than that.

The Chandler couple is facing an array of charges after a simple shoplifting arrest last fall led authorities to uncover the theft ring.

"Basically, what they had set up was a guarantee. They had a buyer, one that was going to pay them in cash," said Seth Tyler with Chandler Police.

It led Chandler Police to more people who stole baby formulas and sold it to 46-year-old Rafid Khoshi and his wife, 43-year-old Manal Sulaiman.

"They were purchasing this for 30 to 50 cents on the dollar, and they were in turn actually selling it to a distributor in El Cajon, California. This distributor was then selling it to buyers in the Minneapolis area and Brooklyn, New York," said Tyler.

"Other than the cars, they didn't seem to have a big lavish lifestyle," said Darrin Jepsen.

Folks living in their quiet Chandler neighborhood are just now piecing together what may have been happening.

"The more you thought there was some weird things happening, in the middle of the night, people coming by, something I didn't witness but heard second hand," said Jepsen. "So obviously, something was going on."

The numbers are staggering, with more than 100 related reports of theft in Maricopa County. Retailers like Walmart, Target, Albertson's and Fry's have collectively lost more than $55,000.

200 felony charges have been issued to more than a dozen people so far.

"Rafi was also selling to a fence on the west side of town, and we were able to get a lot of help from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office," said Tyler.

FOX 10 has reached out to officials with MCSO to learn more about their involvement, but they have not responded as of now.