Baby formula ring mastermind admits to buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of milk powder stolen from supermarkets and shipping it to China
- Lie Ke bought tins of formula that were stolen from supermarkets and chemists
- She bought the tins for $16 to $25 and sold them to Chinese customers for more
- One thief made around $4,000 per week for selling 50 to 100 stolen powder tins
- Illegal transactions were made in public car parks in crowded shopping centres
The mastermind behind a baby formula crime syndicate has admitted to shipping hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of milk powder she bought off supermarket thieves and then shipping it to China.
Lie Ke, 50, bought tins of formula for between $16 to $25 depending on the brand that were stolen from supermarkets and chemists in Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle by shoplifting teams operating between November 2017 and August 2018.
Detectives set up a series of cameras under mats in shopping trolleys to watch Ke conduct a range of illegal exchanges with thieves in public areas, including car parks and Bunnings stores.
Ke, who moved to Carlingford in western Sydney from China in 2001, used her connection to sell the tins in China for more than $80 each.
Lie Ke (pictured left outside Burwood Local Court last year) is accused of being the ringleader of a syndicate that stole baby formula and sold it for inflated prices
One thief said she made around $4,000 per week for selling 50 to 100 containers of stolen milk powder per day to the syndicate leader, The Daily Telegraph reported.
A police fact sheet stated that at least ten suppliers were identified by police in the investigation. Six told police they would regularly sell baby formula to Ke.
‘One of the offenders would act as a lookout within the store throughout the process,’ the fact sheet said.
‘The offenders would attend the self-service checkout and distract staff whilst another offender exited the store without paying for the trolley of goods.’
Searches allegedly located more than 4,000 tins of baby formula, large quantities of vitamins, manuka honey and various other items believed to have been stolen
Ke was arrested in October last year and police searched the home of her daughter-in-law on the same street.
Police have not alleged the daughter-in-law was involved in criminal activity.
Those searches located more than 4,000 tins of baby formula, large quantities of vitamins, manuka honey and various other items believed to have been stolen.
Police also found more than $215,000 cash hidden in one of the houses which was seized.
Though prosecutors could not prove all the cash was made from baby formula sales, court documents stated that Ke moved $394,000 into a bank account owned by her partner between November 2018 and August 2018.
The formula, allegedly stolen from Coles and Woolworths supermarkets as well as Chemist Warehouse outlets across the city, was seized along with more than $200,000 cash
Part of that money is believed to be a result of stolen milk powder.
Ke denied knowing that the powder was stolen and said she only bought formula from people who said they bought it cheaply.
Ke and her husband pleaded guilty to recklessly dealing with the proceeds of crime.
They will be sentenced in Parramatta District Court in June.
Crown prosecutors could not prove if she knew the tins were illegally obtained.
The demand for baby powder in China surged after batches were contaminated in 2008, killing six babies.
More than 54,000 babies were hospitalised.
Sellers began stripping Australian supermarket shelves of powder to sell on to Chinese customers, forcing stores to ration customers to two tins each.