A large-scale police operation took place in Miami-Dade Thursday targeting the theft of plastic crates, an epidemic that authorities say results in the loss of millions and drives up the prices of everything.
Miami-Dade Police said 20 arrests have been made in the thefts of more than $1.5 million dollars worth of plastic crates from retail stores.
NBC 6 cameras were rolling as several people were being processed and taken into custody after the eight month-long investigation. Truckloads of evidence were also seen being hauled away in police vehicles.
The operation is a move by Miami-Dade Police and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office to ultimately stop the rise in prices because of the theft.
Among the arrests Thursday was Henry Galindo. Miami-Dade detectives found him at an apartment complex near Homestead, and his family was not happy with the way their day started.
It's unknown what exact charges Galindo will face or if he's hired an attorney.
Galindo is just one of the 21 men and two women wanted in what authorities dubbed Operation Crate, a county-wide effort to halt what police say is the massive theft of plastic trays carrying items you use everyday, including bread, milk and soft drinks.
The crate thieves can get up to $1 a crate and once ground up, the pulverized bits are sold for even more.
"It can be from Walmart, Target, Publix, CVS, Walgreens, it doesn't matter and they're stealing them from anywhere they can get plastic crates," said Lt. Carlos Gonzalez, with the Miami-Dade Police economic crimes unit. "It's a conspiratorial group. They are very organized."
So organized the sun wasn't even up yet and police found two men with a MacArthur Dairy truck at a location detectives said was a hotbed of the illegal activity. Some 2900 milk crates were found at the facility and there were bags loaded with an estimated $30,000 worth of plastics that had been shredded and were ready for delivery.
"We've had people in a six-month period can make $50,000-60,000 if they don't get caught," investigator Jim Rood said.
For weeks NBC 6 Investigators have been watching as detectives followed trucks moving in the middle of the night from one popular retail store to another. Detectives said the drivers had regular routes, operating like clockwork.
The state attorney said those arrested have been driving up the prices consumers pay in the checkout line. The cost is about a nickel extra every time you buy a gallon of milk.