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Woman steals cases of baby formula

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Lodi police arrested a Stockton woman accused of stealing a large amount of baby formula on Friday evening — and officers say her motive was the same as many people who target this item.

Stores throughout Lodi are targets for baby formula thieves hoping make a profit by selling the product on the black market, officers said.

While many stores have taken steps to stop these thieves, it’s still one of the most frequently stolen items in Lodi and throughout the country, police said.

“We receive a lot of reports of thefts every day, and (baby formula theft) is something we do notice quite often,” Lodi Police Sgt. Doug Chinn said.

Police say Barbara Holmes, 27, forced her 9- and 11-year-old daughters to help steal 44 cans of infant formula at Target, 2355 W. Kettleman Lane, at around 7:40 p.m. Friday. When police asked her why she did it, they reported that Holmes said she wanted to make some extra cash by selling it to her friends, Chinn said.

Officials say that’s usually the plan of thieves who target baby formula.

Authorities started to notice the trend roughly 10 years ago. The thieves were sophisticated and looking for a big score, police said.

They’d fill bags or shopping carts with 30, 40 or 50 cans of baby formula, then run out of the store and flee. After that, they’d turn around and sell the merchandise online, at flea markets or to friends, officers said.

For some people, it’s a million-dollar industry.

After a four-year investigation, police in Gresham, Ore. arrested a man and woman in 2010 for stealing more than $2.5 million worth of baby formula. The thieves targeted stores throughout Oregon and California, and when police raided their home, they found nearly 500 cans stacked in a garage.

Some Lodi grocery stores have spent many years battling this trend, including S-Mart, which reports that baby formula is often stolen from their shelves.

“It is a common item that is privy to theft,” Save Mart Supermarkets spokeswoman Alichia Rockwell said. Save Mart Supermarkets owns the two S-Mart stores in Lodi.

And throughout California, store owners know formula is a popular item among thieves.

“Baby formula theft is a real concern in the grocery store industry,” said Dave Highland, spokesman for the California Grocers Association.

Highland said that with baby formula theft comes health concerns. Formula needs to be stored between specific temperatures, and thieves don’t always adhere to those warnings.

“It’s not just about the loss to the store, but the health risks attached to it, as well,” Highland said.

Highland said that throughout the state, police, district attorneys and grocery stores are working together to share information and identify any theft rings.

Grocery stores are also placing baby formula in visible locations and installing security camera that are positioned to watch the items.

In Lodi, S-Mart stocks their shelves with only a few cans and more is available upon request.

“It’ll be there on our shelves, but it won’t be in large quantities,” Rockwell said.

Holmes is currently being held in San Joaquin County Jail on suspicion of child abuse and endangerment, burglary and providing false identification to a police officer. Holmes also had several outstanding warrants for commercial burglary and petty theft.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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