Woman accused of tampering with baby formula in Tucson, returned it for refund

Posted at 10:23 PM, May 11, 2017

The Tucson Police Department says a woman is accused of buying and stealing baby formula from multiple stores and refilling the containers with flour and other substances before returning them.

On Thursday night police held an urgent news conference to announce a health and safety concern.  

According to police, Jennifer Laplante, 30, mostly tampered with the Gerber Good Start Soy product after taking them from stores. However, police cannot rule out that any other products have been affected.

Laplante allegedly bought or stole the baby formula from various stores on the city's east side, removed the contents from the containers and refilled them with a different product before return the item to the stores.

Laplante's actions came to light after the Tucson police's Child Physical Abuse Unit received reports about a baby that possibly consumed contaminated formula. 

According to an interim complaint, a 2-month-old was transported to the Tucson Medical Center due to the infant acting lethargic. The baby was given a bottle of formula which had a strong chemical smell.

The victim has since been released from the hospital and is expected to be OK.

Emily Wolverton, a Tucson mother, said it's "ingenious how evil it is," by involving a child's life for a quick buck.

"To knowingly risk the health of other babies to do that...that just adds a whole new level," Wolverton said.

Police later traced the formula back to Fry's, located near 22nd Street and Kolb Road, and discovered on Thursday that Laplante previously returned the alleged contaminated item, authorities said. 

Police said the alleged scheme apparently was motivated by money and took place over at least several days and possibly for up to two months.

Police say Fry's Food and Drug and Walmart stores were often frequented by the suspect.

All stores affected have removed the old stock of formula from shelves. Investigators are still working to locate all of the items that the suspect returned.   

Laplante has admitted to mixing in flours, sugars and rice cereal into the formula before returning it to the stores, the interim complaint said. She also secured the lid back onto the formula containers with a strong smelling adhesive.

Laplante is facing multiple charges including fraudulent schemes and child endangerment. Police say additional charges are possible.  

She made an initial appearance Friday morning and a judge set a $50,000 bond for her on Friday. It wasn't immediately known whether she has an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

Here's a list of stores that were affected:

  • Fry's 9401 E 22nd St.
  • Fry's 7050 E 22nd St.
  • Walmart Marketplace 8640 E Broadway Blvd.
  • Walmart 7150 E. Speedway Blvd.

Dr. Francisco Garcia, chief medical officer for Pima County, said tests are being conducted to determine whether other substances were put in formula containers along with flour, such as something to make it more palatable.

If you have recently purchased the formula from any of these east side locations, police urge you to examine the product. 

Any suspicious products can be dropped off at the Tucson Police Evidence Facility located at 945 E. Ohio Street.

Parents shouldn't feed infants with any formula if there's any question of possible tampering, Garcia said. "Those seals should be intact," he said.