Volusia sheriff’s detectives have concluded an 18-month investigation into an organized crime ring this week, based in Volusia County, that swept across five neighboring counties.
Named “Operation Bengal King,” the investigation revealed the organization reached into Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns, Orange and Brevard counties. The ring was operated by a South Daytona couple through their liquor store, Bengal’s Discount Liquor.
Considered the ring’s masterminds, the husband and wife were the last to be arrested Wednesday on warrants. Anis Ahmed, 53 (DOB 5/2/1968) was charged with conspiracy to deal in stolen property, organized dealing in stolen property (a first-degree felony), and two counts of dealing in stolen property. His wife, Selina Ahmed, 46, (DOB 3/10/1975), is charged with dealing in stolen property. The pair were transported to the Volusia County Branch Jail and released on $225,000 and $25,000 bail respectively.
Four other co-conspirators in the ring have been arrested and charged with grand theft and dealing in stolen property. The other two members died of heroin overdoses in 2020 before they could be charged.
“This was an amazing job by our detectives into a brazen, large-scale operation by people who ruined lives and took advantage of their drug-addicted co-defendants,” Sheriff Mike Chitwood said. “They should go away for a very long time.”
This investigation, which began in November 2019, shows the Ahmeds were actively purchasing large amounts of property stolen from Walmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walgreens stores in multiple jurisdictions, then trafficking the same property through Bengal’s, 335 Beville Road, South Daytona.
The couple and their employee, Joseph Bennett, initiated, organized, financed and directed the thefts, which occurred multiple times a week, sometimes even daily.
The group stole about $375,000 worth of merchandise a year, including high-end tools and electronics, and large amounts of cigarettes, from October 2019 to June 2020. The defendants were known to use stolen license plates on their getaway vehicles. On several occasions, the defendants fled at high speed from law enforcement, putting the lives of innocent motorists in danger during the process.
While most of the group loaded their shopping carts and brazenly walked past all points of sale then loaded the merchandise in their getaway vehicle, one member escalated to violence and became a dangerous criminal while committing the thefts. Zachery Ridgdill, 29 (DOB 11/01/1991) was arrested Feb. 20, 2020. In addition to being charged with grand theft, he is charged with numerous weapons charges based on the following:
- During an incident when confronted by a cashier in St. Johns County, Ridgdill leveled a stun gun as though it was a firearm at a Home Depot employee and threatened the employee.
- In a second incident in Brevard County, Ridgdill attempted to stun a loss prevention officer during a theft where he and the loss prevention officer got into a physical fight.
- On one occasion while fleeing, Ridgdill attempted to run down a Volusia Sheriff’s deputy who was attempting to set up stop sticks.
At least two dozen law enforcement officers have participated in this investigation. The case is being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, based in Orlando. Here are the defendants in addition to the Ahmeds:
n Ridgdill, arrested Feb. 20, 2020, remains in custody, awaiting trial. His numerous charges include aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, flee/attempt to elude with lights siren active, felony driving while license canceled, possession of a short-barreled gun, possession of a firearm by a convicted state felon.
n Diana Chandler, 36 (DOB 10/31/1984); arrested in November 2020, charged with grand theft and dealing in stolen property. Accepted plea of five months’ time served and five years’ probation.
n Nicole Cormier-Maloney, 27, (DOB 09/23/1993); arrested in September 2020, charged with grand theft and dealing in stolen property. Pleaded guilty; eventually released and is serving probation.
n Frank Robinson, 41, (DOB 02/15/1980); in custody, charged with grand theft and dealing in stolen property. Pleaded guilty; serving time at Florida State Prison; due for release in February 2022.
n Derek Wollet, (DOB 05/17/1976), died in January 2020 of a heroin overdose.
n Joseph Bennett, (DOB 03/06/1984) died in October 2020 of a heroin overdose.