Thieves target produce markets in Polk County

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla (WFLA) – As owner of a mom and pop produce stand, Charlene Walker never dreamed Walker Produce would be the victim of a major theft.  She says people have stolen food in the past, but not in bulk.

 “We’ve had occasions where somebody has come in and gone dumpster diving or going through our slop bins trying to get stuff, saying they were hungry,” said Walker. “We tell them we have a dollar basket table and they can come back and see us at the end of the day and we’d fill a box (for them).”

But on May 20th, a man entered the closed market and helped himself to nearly 2-thousand dollars in produce and other items from the business.

 “They took baskets and all.  They were display baskets.  It wasn’t just the produce.” said Walker.  “Actually items to set displays up and the handle baskets that you shop with.  They actually took the stack of baskets.”

The entire ordeal was captured on camera.

The Bartow Police Department is investigating this case, but it caught the attention of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, where detectives are investigating three burglaries at a produce stand in South Lakeland.

Carrie Horstman is a spokeswoman with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.  “We do believe it’s possible that it’s an organized group of people.  It’s just too coincidental,” said Horstman.  “When we saw this produce stand in Bartow getting hit, we thought, hmmm… maybe it’s related to the one we’re working in South Lakeland.”

The Produce Palace on South Florida Avenue, south of the Lakeland city limits has been hit three times since February.

Owner George Parks says in the most recent case the thieves cleaned him out. “They knew just what to take,” said Parks. “They just took bins filled with produce.”

Walker believes the person responsible in her case, is probably in the produce business or knows someone who is. “Either somebody trying to set up another roadside location…or working with somebody that has a produce stand or perhaps a restaurant,” said Walker. “Supplying the produce to restaurants.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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