ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) — First it was copper gutters, then restaurant grease — now, in the first case of its kind in St. Louis a man is charged with stealing multiple bottles of Tide laundry detergent.
“It appears to have some kind of black market, barter value,” said Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, “Apparently people trade Tide detergent for various things including drugs.”
36-year-old Carlos Johnson is accused of seven separate Tide heists. None involved a weapon, but he’s accused of punching a store employee to make his getaway in once instance, raising the charge to a “strong arm robbery.”
“He could get significant prison time, if convicted,” Joyce said.
The circuit attorney predicts there will be more criminal cases against Tide thieves. As KMOX reported earlier, St. Louis police are investigating some 50 instances of laundry detergent robberies.
Captain Mary Warnecke says they are close to arresting two individuals believed responsible for more than a dozen of the thefts and hope to determine why they want the laundry soap enough to risk jail.
“Knowing the drug trade and the propensity for bartering that’s included,” Warnecke said, “People will trade just about anything, if they have a drug addiction.”
Another possibility, Warnecke said, is that the detergent is being sold for cash on the streets or sold to an organized group re-selling it in stores.
Since mid-2011, Warnecke says they’ve been getting reports of the detergent thefts, mostly Tide or Gains, and the scenario is similar.
“We’re talking about one to two individuals going into our smaller type stores, our dollar stores, convenience stores, even gas stations,” Warnecke said, “Grabbing the product and running out to a waiting vehicle.”
St. Louis Police have been meeting with retailers Walgreens and Target to respond to the detergent thefts.
Joyce notes that she’s seen some stores in St. Louis city now putting anti-theft devices on Tide bottles. In other parts of the country, the pharmacy chain CVS has reportedly securing Tide and other laundry detergent alongside flu medication and other items at high-risk for theft.