Nationwide mall theft ring accused of shoplifting $20M of high-end merchandise
For at least the past decade, Tijuana vendors put in special orders for designer merchandise, dispatching teams of shoplifters to malls around the country to steal more than $20 Million in loot that could be sold at lower prices in Mexico, according to the indictment unsealed in San Diego, California, federal court yesterday. The highly organized shoplifting ring targeted malls around San Diego County… from Fashion Valley to Horton Plaza to Plaza Bonita — and as far away as Washington, Illinois, Oregon and Maryland, prosecutors said. They used sophisticated techniques to lift everything from Louis Vuitton shoes to Victoria’s Secret lingerie to Abercrombie & Fitch clothing. And when necessary, the suspected thieves used violence, knocking down an infant in a stroller or breaking a loss prevention associate’s arm, to get away with their crimes, the US Attorney’s Office said. On Wednesday, more than 250 law enforcement officers spread throughout the county with warrants, arresting at least 14 people by the afternoon and searching three homes in Lemon Grove, Chula Vista and San Diego.
A San Diego federal grand jury indicted 22 people in the scheme. Three of those arrested were already in custody. Some remain fugitives. Agents seized about $30,000 in cash as well as about a dozen trash bags bursting with new clothing with tags and security devices still attached. Numerous brands were represented in the haul, including Guess, Express, Hollister, Calvin Klein, Puma, Armani, and Adidas. Piles of new Louis Vuitton shoes, as well as jewelry and perfume, were also confiscated. Sara Portilla, who manages a boutique in Tijuana, and Maria Angelica Mendez Valdivia, both San Diegans, are accused of fencing the stolen goods in the store and at Mexican swap meets with the help of Jose de Jesus Mora, said David Shaw, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego. At times they would make specific requests for special items, such as an order for Tommy Hilfiger, or other items not found in stores in California, according to the indictment. [Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune]