Florida lawmakers aim to increase penalties for organized retail theft

(The Center Square) — Florida lawmakers have introduced two bills designed to curb the growing issue of organized retail theft in the Sunshine State.

Senate Bill 824 is sponsored by Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, and was accompanied by House Bill 549, a companion bill sponsored by state Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, that would increase punishments for retail theft that could carry a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment.

The bills would revise state law to make retail theft a third-degree felony if the theft is over $750 — either committed individually or in a group — if the individual commits more than three retail thefts within 365 days, or acts in concert with five or more people to overwhelm store owners.

Conspiring with another person to commit retail theft with the intent to sell the stolen property with an excess of $3,000 for monetary gain would become a second-degree felony which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment.

Sen. Ingoglia told CBS12 News that these thefts are often organized over social media and that Florida will not tolerate individuals who engage in such criminal activity.

“Large-scale, smash-and-grab retail theft is a plague on businesses across America. Often organized online, they involve a blatant disregard for private property. This is not California. The State of Florida is a law and order state that will not stand for such criminal actions and will prosecute the crooks to the fullest extent of the law,” Sen. Ingoglia told CBS12 News.

Rommel also told CBS12 News that there are often hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise stolen or damaged during these organized retail thefts, and added that if the bills pass into law – every single person that is charged will be responsible for paying it back, regardless of how many people were involved.

“If 100 people did it and you’re the only one that gets caught, you’re gonna be on the hook for it,” Rommel told CBS12 News.

The bills are in response to a recent retail theft operation that was taken down by law enforcement with thefts adding up to $20 million that spanned from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade County.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody pointed out during a recent news conference that large-scale retail theft is affecting law-abiding Floridians, who have costs passed onto them because retailers are forced to recover expenses.