A terrorism task force of federal and state agents fanned out across Arizona and Southern California to arrest 15 people accused of trafficking more than $22 million in stolen infant formula, the Arizona Republic reports.
The arrests came after a 20-month investigation into a money-laundering operation that funneled funds to three Middle Eastern countries. Authorities avoided linking the ring to terrorism. Those arrested and 12 others indicted are charged with interstate transportation of stolen property or conspiracy to launder money.
All but two of those indicted were men from the Middle East, mostly Iraqi, Jordanian and Lebanese natives who arrived in the United States legally.
The stolen baby-formula ring is similar to others across the country, including one broken up last month in Texas. Stolen baby formula is profitable largely because of a program enacted by Congress to provide supplemental food for low-income women and children. The Women, Infants and Children Program creates a steady market for formula.