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Most lawbreakers tend to keep their crimes within a fairly small set of activities – drugs, violence, prostitution, etc. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and some criminal groups have branched out to some unusual sources of income. In this feature, we’ll run down ten criminal organizations that thought way outside the box.

Breastfeeding Prostitution Ring

Money for sex is one of the most traditional forms of crime there is, but some crooks decided to cater to a more…specialized audience. In December 2014, Chinese authorities raided a gang that was charging men a staggering $7,800 a month for access to a group of lactating mothers that would let them suckle breast milkfrom their teats. The women, who were all parenting newborns, got paid for letting customers drink their rich fluids and could also charge extra for sex if they wanted. Many were feeding their new babies formula to save their natural milk for their clients, which is pretty messed up. (Photo Credit: CEN)

Arsenic Poisoning Ring

Let’s head back to the late 1930s for one of the most bizarre murder campaigns in the history of crime. After the death of a day laborer in 1938, Philadelphia police started noticing an increase in hospital patients suffering from toxemia. They discovered that a group of corrupt insurance agents had been trawling the lower-class areas of the city, signing people up for policies and then arranging for them to be poisoned with arsenic. Medical science at the time chalked many of the deaths up to pneumonia, and toxicity screenings weren’t performed on the bodies. The ring was run by cousins Herman and Paul Petrillo, and when they were arrested in 1939 detectives traced back 141 killings to the duo. (Photo Credit: Malefactorregister)

Bootleg Cable Ring

It’s hard to believe, but once upon a time all of your home entertainment flowed through a cable box. Premium programming became a big deal in the pre-Internet age, but people really didn’t want to pay for the service. That’s what inspired a pair of Florida brothers to create one of the world’s largest cable bootlegging rings. The Russo brothers worked with electronics companies all over the world to manufacture parts for cable descramblers, which they would then sell in a variety of places, including out of a hot dog stand in New Jersey. Some of the ring’s members even stole 3,500 bootleg boxes from a LAPD evidence locker. (Photo Credit: Mr. Tin DC via Flickr CC)

Senior Center Prostitution Ring

Retirement is supposed to be an opportunity to enjoy freedom from the rat race, but some people just can’t stop working. James Parham and Cheryl Chaney, aged 75 and 66 respectively, were busted in 2013 for running a drug and prostitution ring out of the Vicente K. Tibbs Senior Citizen Building in Englewood, New Jersey. Police allege that the pair used the nursing home to host street hookers and vagrants. Residents complained about strange people in the building and finding used condoms in the common rooms, and eventually an investigation traced it to the duo, who had been living there for 20 years. (Photo Credit: Sima Dimitric via Flickr CC)

Tide Detergent Theft Ring

Some would argue that government-backed currency is essentially valueless and that we should go back to the barter system to power our economy. We doubt the crooks responsible for a wave of detergent thefts in 2012 would go that far, but it’s fair to argue that, for a while, Tide was liquid gold. Shoplifters were liberating cases of it from stores and using it instead of money. Known as “organized retail crime,” this behavior is disturbingly common, but the detergent thieves took it to a new level. Teams of “boosters” liberated the product from stores, and it was then sold on the street by fences for a 75 percent discount. (Photo Credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr CC)

Venus Flytrap Smuggling Ring

Where there’s scarcity, there’s crime. Even bizarre scarcity. Case in point: the poaching ring that has sprung up in North Carolina around Venus flytraps. The bug-eating vegetables are actually reasonably rare, with just 35,000 in the wild, mainly growing in North Carolina’s swamps. Since they can be sold for decent money, criminals poach them with disturbing regularity. They sell the bulbs for a paltry 25 cents a pop to greenhouses and large retailers, who mark them up and sell them to stores. In December 2014, North Carolina made picking a wild flytrap illegal, carrying a penalty of 25 to 39 months in prison. (Photo Credit: Only_Point_Five via Flickr CC)

Teenage Counterfeit Ring

Usually it takes an adult criminal to organize a group of crooks, but kids are starting a lot of things earlier these days. In 2011, police in Stuart, Florida busted four students who had been running a counterfeiting ringto pay for school lunches. The quartet attended Jensen Beach High School as freshmen, and got busted after suspicious administration equipped the lunch ladies with a counterfeit-detecting pen. The ringleader was a 15 year old student who printed the funny money on yellow resume paper his parents had bought him for a school project. His motivation for passing off the bad cash was “because it sounded cool.” (Photo Credit: Lee via Flickr CC)

Pigeon Egg Smuggling Ring

Here’s another bizarre one involving criminals and the animal kingdom. Pigeon racing is a big hobby in some Latin American cultures, and the general consensus is that Cuban pigeons are among the fastest in the world. Miami pet store owner Rufino Blanco and his daughter Claribel Blanco Cuellar were the American representatives of a smuggling ring that sneaked pigeon eggs out of Cuba and into the States. They transported the eggs inside plastic Easter shells, and when stopped by authorities Claribel claimed that they were for use in Santeria rituals. (Photo Credit: Thor via Flickr CC)

Fake Kidnapping Ring

Sometimes pretending you did a crime can be just as profitable as actually doing it. In 2013, Homeland Security busted a group of criminals who had operated a successful extortion ring based around fake kidnappings. The group’s modus operandi was simple: go down a list of phone numbers and claim that they’d abducted a family member of the person on the other end of the line. If somebody fell for it, they’d give a ransom demand. It seems ridiculous, but the victims – mostly Latino families – believed it, and wired thousands of dollars to the fake kidnappers. (Photo Credit: Alana Holmberg via Flickr CC)

Prison Sperm Smuggling Ring

Let’s head over to the Middle East for this next quasi-criminal ring that shows exactly how innovation flourishes in harsh conditions. Palestinian prisoners locked away in Israeli prisons are expanding their families using a massive, covert organization that exists only to extract their sperm. Because conjugal visits are banned, the couriers are usually the prisoners’ mothers and fathers, who smuggle out containers of sperm and then rush them to IVF clinics to implant the seed into the man’s wife. There’s a whole network of doctors that specialize in this illegal procedure. (Photo Credit: Mark Holtzhausen via Flickr CC)

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