A gang of thieves swiped hundreds of thousands of dollars in tools from Home Depot stores around Miami-Dade County since April of 2023, according to arrest reports. The man who cops say was at the center of making all the thefts possible: a Home Depot loss prevention officer.

South Miami-Dade resident Lazaro Echevarria was arrested last Thursday along with 44-year-olds Jose Bello-Valdez and Yoannys Montano-Solano after Miami-Dade police say search warrants at two places discovered “1,240 items valued at over $260,000. Some of the items were still in the original packaging.”

Obviously, the search warrant wouldn’t have included items already sold. Also, that value estimate didn’t count the items used in an alleged side hustle fraud involving refunds.

The group made another $49,000 by printing out a receipt from a past sale, swiping a matching item from the store with the same UPC code and “returning” the item for the cash value, according to arrest reports.

All three remained in Miami-Dade Corrections custody as of Wednesday afternoon.

Echevarria, 37, had the biggest bond, $98,000, after being charged with one count of organized fraud; one count of unlawful use of a communications device; six counts of dealing in stolen property; six counts of petit theft; and 17 counts of thrid degree grand theft. He’s pleaded not guilty.

Home Depot said Echevarria has been fired, but wouldn’t say how long he’d been working for the company nor confirm any of his positions held.

Bello, a Hialeah resident, received a $85,500 bond after being charged with one count of organized fraud; one count of unlawful use of a communications device; five counts of dealing in stolen property; six counts of petit theft; and 15 counts of third degree grand theft.

South Miami-Dade’s Montano, alleged to be the seller of stolen goods on Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp, faces one count of organized fraud; one count of third degree grand theft; one count of unlawful use of a communications device; and 11 counts of dealing in stolen property. His bond is $82,500.

An “unidentified white male” also joined the group, police said.

As described in arrest reports, their scheme for hitting Home Depot locations in Kendall (15750 SW 88th St), West Miami-Dade (11305 Bird Rd.) and Hialeah (1590 W. 49th St.) started with Echevarria, a Home Depot “asset protection specialist.”

Detectives say Echevarria “facilitated the thefts by opening locked tool cabinets; most likely, furnishing keys and/or combinations to the tool cabinets; and staged various items to be later stolen” such as putting them in predetermined places.

“Once the thefts concluded, he would leave the store still on shift to sell the stolen items.”

Once, the “asset protection specialist” had to protect his partner, an arrest report noted, when a sharp-eyed senior citizen in a Kendall parking lot almost got everyone caught five months ago.

READ MORE: Miami Beach, Miami and Orlando men defrauded Home Depots of $100,000, investigators say

Stolen tools, a black Chevy and Home Depot

Bello-Valdez strolled into the aforementioned Home Depot in Kendall at around 10:40 a.m. on Nov. 3 and went to the gift center. He picked out tool combination sets from Dewalt and Milwaukee and put them in an empty box on a flatbed cart. Bello-Valdez strolled into the parking lot with the tool sets without pausing to pay.

An “elderly male customer” told store management he saw this. Store management told their asset protection specialist — Echevarria.

Meanwhile, Bello-Valdez was putting the stolen tool kits into the a black Chevrolet SUV when an off-duty Miami-Dade officer came over to him, before he ran towards the nearby Walmart “leaving his vehicle abandoned.”

Bello-Valdez got away and “Echevarria, who was working and present at the time, had no choice but to generate an internal incident report. But he never filed a police report with Miami-Dade police despite finding 19 Dewalt Atomic 20-volt cordless combination kits; five Milwaukee M18 Fuel 120 mph Handheld Blower Kit; four Milwaukee M18 fuel hatchet pruning saws; a 20-volt Max 23 Gauge Pin Nailer Kit; and one Kitchen Cabinet.” Total value: $6,250.

“The incident was captured on closed circuit TV,” the arrest report said. “Echevarria’s report is not consistent with what occurred during the incident.”

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