Where Is the Loot? The Hunt for Millions in Stolen Goods and Prescription Drugs

After nearly 1,000 stores, including 180 pharmacies, were looted and vandalized in and around Philadelphia, police are struggling to find millions in stolen goods.

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The morning after he arrived to Orlando with his family, Sean Watson noticed a slew of alerts from his shop’s alarm system. 

He plugged in and watched as two looters used a rock the size of two fists to break into his salon and shop, Lizzylyn Salon, in the Parkside neighborhood of West Philadelphia. One of the looters could be seen emptying out the eyelashes case, then running to the back to take $15,000 worth of hair bundles. 

He spent the rest of his four-day vacation re-ordering items so he could restock the store once he returned. 

“Hair is essential,” he said. When NBC10 interviewed him at his store, there was a constant stream of women coming in to get their three hair bundles-- selling for upwards of $200. 

Hair and sneakers were some of the more popular items looters went for when the George Floyd protests turned to chaos the last weekend in May. Center City stores were broken into and destroyed that Saturday evening. On Sunday, looters hit the neighborhoods including the Parkside commercial corridor. 

Watson filled out a police report, but has not yet heard whether the perpetrators were caught or if any of his items were recovered. His store was one of 928 shops whose owners reported being looted during the aftermath of the George Floyd protests. 

“Man, they could be anywhere," he said. "Probably on the streets. I’m not quite sure what people are doing but there are people selling clothes, shoes and stuff like that. Hair probably.”

The NBC10 Investigators asked Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw whether police have recovered any looted items so far. She said: “Frankly, I don’t know the answer to that. We will have to circle back.” 

We circled back the next day, but still there was no answer. 

Colwyn police in Delaware County tracked down dozens of looted items -- sneakers, Nike t-shirts, alcohol and beauty supplies-- much of it still with tags. The items were strewn in an apartment. The mayor said that after the suspects were arrested, police returned the stolen items to the stores. 

As hundreds of stores in Philadelphia were looted and police were helpless to stop it, some store owners took matters into their own hands, they told NBC10 reporter Claudia Vargas, who also talked to experts about owners' rights.

Days after the looting, dozens of online postings were advertising new sneakers. But it is unclear if the online posts were for looted items. 

Some shop owners said they heard about people setting up stands on the streets trying to sell stolen items. We walked around and found a cart full of shoes on Kensington Avenue. 

A man who identified himself as Iris said some of the sneakers -- most of which were missing a pair-- may have been dropped by looters and picked up by someone else to sell. 

“Make a couple of bucks because they are homeless, and I’m homeless, and you have to do what you have to do to survive out here,” Iris said.

But perhaps the most concerning loot is that of prescription drugs.

Nafisa and Mitch Patel own the Medicine Shoppe on Kensington Avenue. It is one of 180 pharmacies that were burglarized during the civil unrest. 

Pretty much everything was wiped out in their store, including computers where inventory and records were kept, and their surveillance system.

“We lost $500,000 in just inventory - and that’s not insurable,” Nafisa Patel said. 

If the Patels’ loss was to be considered normal or an average for the other pharmacies that were looted, that would mean $90 million worth of drugs and medications were stolen in Philadelphia alone. 

Pharmacy owners and federal authorities are most concerned about the theft of Oxycodone, Percocets and other narcotics that are highly addictive and have a high street value.

 “It’s very upsetting that things that weren’t meant to be out on the street are out on the street,” Mitch Patel said.

Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration have been helping Philadelphia pharmacies assess and report what prescription drugs were stolen. A third of all pharmacies in Philadelphia were burglarized.

“We’ve seen looters going through the shelves trying to find the drugs that have a great street value,” DEA agent Pat Trainer said.  

Agents are still working to quantify the total loss. They are also going through surveillance video that is still available and looking for the drug thieves. 

If any drugs are recovered they have to ultimately be destroyed and cannot go back to pharmacies. 

In the meantime, pharmacies are trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild. 

“I don’t know how to come back from it but all we can do is try,” Nafisa Patel said.

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