FERGUS FALLS, Minn.-Six people have been identified in connection with a multi-state electronics theft ring which spanned six states and left Walmart stores in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota with a combined loss of nearly $400,000.
After at least six months of extensive investigations by countless agencies across the Midwest, the operation appears to have been brought to an end three months after the suspects made their final heist in Fergus Falls.
Fergus Falls law enforcement are pulling the wraps off of the story behind the elaborate operation which resulted in $180,000 of stolen merchandise for Walmart stores in Minnesota and $40,000 taken in Fergus Falls.
Six people in total have been identified in connection with the spree of incidents. They are Tashanda Boclair, 31; Lasonya Miles, 30; Ezekiel Brown, 18; Marquise Townsend, 23; Tajaray Starr, 30 and Siearre Smith, 27.
All six are said to be residents of the Twin Cities area.
On Jan. 24, at around 5 a.m., investigators say four people-two men and two women-can be seen on surveillance footage entering the Fergus Falls Walmart. The group worked their way back to a secured metal cage in the electronics department before they then allegedly forced open the high-dollar smartphone display and loaded roughly 48 cell phones into a plastic tub prepared inside a nearby shopping cart.
The incident seems to play out without anyone noticing.
Then, three of the individuals are said to have made for the building's exit while a fourth goes just ahead of the group and attempts to leave with a large television in tow. Authorities say that suspect was caught by employees as the group of three maneuvered their cart of concealed gadgets to a vehicle in the parking lot with out-of-state license plates, driving away a short time later.
A law enforcement alert was sent out across the state in an effort to locate the vehicle, and only four hours later a trooper with the Minnesota State Patrol made a traffic stop on Interstate 94 in Douglas County. Investigators say the officer discovered only a single driver in the car, and a search of the vehicle - found to be a rental car - revealed nothing of note. The license plate may have been a match, but little if anything remained to link the vehicle or driver to the incident.
The suspect was sent on her way.
That statewide alert reached investigators in the Twin Cities area who had been working already to investigate similar incidents within their jurisdictions. Local officials explained that the metro agencies took on the case in conjunction with Walmart corporate security investigators and other law enforcement groups in Wisconsin.
In Minnesota alone, they identified repeated thefts in Worthington, Cottage Grove, Monticello, and Albert Lea - amongst many others. Surveillance footage appeared to show the same individuals implicated in the Fergus Falls incident, and the modus operandi was a consistent match. During late-night or early-morning hours, the group would maneuver to the store's electronics department before forcing open secured product storage cases and loading high-value gadgets into a plastic tub.
Dollar amounts varied in the thefts, with some incidents meaning a lesser loss of little more than $1,000. Still others, however, such as $48,000 from a store in Maple Grove and $47,000 over two attempts at a store in Eau Claire meant a major financial hit. As a matter of comparison, the theft in Fergus Falls of $40,000 was not only the group's final known heist but also the second-most costly event in Minnesota.
At least three of the suspects have already been charged in Wisconsin, where all of that state's criminal complaints were handled in Eau Claire. Likewise, incidents in Minnesota will be aggregated together in Fergus Falls and heard by Otter Tail County judges. Officials say those charges have yet to be filed, as the final reports are anticipated to be completed within the next few weeks.
As for the merchandise itself, police say the smartphones, tablets, and other valuable products have yet to be recovered, and it is currently unknown what might have become of the stolen goods.
Law enforcement records show that the pattern of thefts began in Minnesota in late June of 2017.