Police: Stolen nail polish sold to salons feeding heroin epidemic

Posted at 9:36 PM, Aug 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 10:49:01-04

Across the country, illegal trades are made on the black market every day.

Police in southeast Michigan say a new black market has emerged for cosmetics - specifically nail polish.

Most women don't think about where the nail polish in their local salon comes from. Police in metro Detroit say some of it could be stolen and sold to salons by drug addicts.

Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh says in his 35 years on the job he's seen a lot of shoplifting, but it was a particular theft at CVS that raised red flags. Nearly 200 bottles of nail polish were stolen, totaling around $1,600.

"It's a popular product,” Narsh says. “Almost everyone's having their nails done and there's a lot of salons."

In surveillance video, you can see a man and woman walking into the store together.
They head directly to the cosmetics aisle, their attention focused on high-end, high-priced nail polish.

"They had obviously been in the store before, they knew where the display was,” Narsh says. “They knew the product was there, they walked directly to the product, stole the product, turned around and left."

In fact, the store caught them on camera twice, each time the woman opened a large empty purse and shoved dozens of tiny colorful bottles inside.

"What they're going to do is steal a $10 bottle, sell that for $2, take that $2 and then fund their drug habit," Narsh says.

He says those bottles likely ended up in suburban Detroit spas and salons.

"So usually if there's a theft, there's a customer. And in this case they knew that and they were stealing the nail polish, taking it to the small salons and selling it for a dime on a dollar," Narsh says.

Customers inside the stores have no idea their manicures and pedicures came from an illegal deal - supporting illegal drugs.

Derek Hill, the man in the video, was caught by police. He is currently in jail for two separate felony cases.
We caught up with him in court, where he confessed to the judge, saying heroin was behind his crimes.

"It's a very, very big problem that we're having, to the level that we're saying it's becoming almost catastrophic," says Dr. Chad Audi, President of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries is tracking the heroin trend. Dr. Audi says the drug is hitting young adults the most. They've seen more and more 18 to 27 year olds reaching for help.

"As we speak right now we're rehabbing a new facility because we need more beds for especially men now, much more than women," says Audi.

He says thefts of all kinds across Michigan will continue to rise, and new black markets will emerge.

Police do not know which salons or how many are involved in the growing black market for nail polish.

"Especially during the economy that Michigan went through, many times even business owners are going to look to other ways of funding their business and making sure they stay in business,” says Narsh. “It's unfortunate, it's illegal, but it happens."

The chief recommends having a frank conversation with your salon, ask them where they purchase the polish. Use your instincts to determine if the salon is worth your money.

During the court case we watched, Derek Hill was sentenced to 90 days in jail followed by enrollment in a treatment program. He is still going through court process for the nail polish theft.

The woman in the video with him was found on the run in New York. Lake Orion Police are working to get her back to Michigan to face justice and receive help.