Nine members of an alleged organized retail theft network accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise from stores throughout California have been charged with conspiracy, felony grand theft and receiving stolen property, state Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Friday.
The charges came after a series of headline-grabbing thefts by mobs of people who rushed into stores — smashing windows and grabbing clothing, jewelry, tools, luxury purses and other goods.
Police arrested five of the nine suspects Monday in Los Angeles and recovered $62,000 in cash and $135,000 in merchandise stolen from stores that included Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, Abercrombie & Fitch, J.C. Penney, and Lululemon.
Three suspects were arrested in Los Angeles Tuesday and charged in a separate complaint with receiving stolen property for allegedly possessing over $17,000 in stolen merchandise.
Police were still trying to find a ninth suspect. They were all charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, organized retail theft, grand theft, possession of stolen property, and a special allegation that the theft totaled more than $100,000, Bonta said.
He said the group allegedly stole and transported hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of goods from stores in Los Angeles, Alameda, Fresno, Kern, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Ventura counties. They then allegedly shipped the stolen merchandise internationally.
The arrests followed an investigation started last year by the California Highway Patrol in partnership with the state’s organized theft task force, which includes local law enforcement officers and retailers.
This week, different thieves smashed the front window of a Beverly Hills jewelry store in broad daylight and fled with millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise. And Los Angeles police warned people that wearing expensive jewelry in public could make them a target for thieves amid the citywide increase in robberies.
State lawmakers are considering two bills to address organized retail theft. One bill would create an online reporting platform for consumers to report suspected stolen goods for sale online. Another would allow separate instances of retail theft to be counted in aggregate toward the existing $950 felony threshold approved by voters in 2014.
“My bill, AB 2390, would hold criminal offenders accountable while providing diversion programs to address the root causes of the crime, such as poverty, mental disorder, or childhood trauma,” said Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat, who introduced the bill on Thursday.
He added: “Currently too many offenders charged with a misdemeanor for theft under $950 are not given any jail time and often re-offend. This bill would help deter serial theft by holding offenders accountable while offering necessary support services so that they will not re-offend.”