A retail theft ring stole more than $1 million in jewelry from JCPenney and Sam’s Club stores across California in 2020 and 2021, acting as a traveling crime wave, California’s attorney general said Friday.
Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced that state prosecutors have obtained guilty pleas from two members of an organized retail theft ring operating in the state and filed charges against another person accused of being involved in the criminal activity.
The suspects were apprehended after a two-year California Highway Patrol operation to identify those responsible for the thefts across nine counties.
Anton Salaam, Marion Paul Tilley and two other suspects committed retail theft at multiple JCPenney and Sam’s Clubs stores, taking merchandise valued at well over $1 million, between September 2020 and February 2021, according to Bonta.
He said the targeted burglaries are rooted in a kind of organized crime. Those dashing into the stores are mostly foot soldiers for others calling the shots from a safe distance.
The announcement Friday is latest since a very public mass smash-and-grab robbery that occurred in San Francisco’s Union Square targeting high-end retailers.
“Organized retail theft costs businesses, retailers and consumers — and puts the public at risk,” Bonta said. “Brazen criminal activity, such as the organized retail theft operation we are taking action against today, will not be tolerated in California.”
The bust and subsequent charges are part of an effort by California to crack down on retail theft that has exploded during the COVD-19 pandemic.
The suspects in this case entered or broke through exterior doors and stole high-end jewelry in Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Clara and Tulare counties.
The arrests and pleas are the result of an investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies that began in 2020. During the investigation, CHP and local law enforcement served search warrants at the homes of those accused in the ring and recovered “jewelry and cases used for sale.” In some cases, the suspects were stealing the items to sell, exchange or “return them for value.”
Salaam and Tilley pleaded guilty to a violation of organized retail theft and were sentenced to 16 months in state prison. A third suspect has been charged with organized retail theft and child endangerment; an illegal assault weapon was found in the presence of the suspect’s 9-year-old child, prosecutors said. A fourth suspect also was charged with organized retail theft.
“This case underscores the commitment of the CHP and local law enforcement agencies to enhance public safety throughout the state of California, and I extend my appreciation to all who worked so hard on this case, which resulted in these arrests,” CHP Commissioner Amanda Roy said in a statement.
Besides CHP, the agencies involved in the investigation were: the Citrus Heights Police Department, Roseville Police Department, Fresno Police Department, Hanford Police Department, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, Visalia Police Department, Bakersfield Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Folsom Police Department, Chino Police Department and the Bullhead, Ariz., Police Department, which apprehended two of the suspects.
The rash of burglaries has generated debates not only over how to combat the crimes but over California’s criminal justice reforms, which some police officials blame for an increase in retail crimes.
In December, Bonta responded to criticism that social justice reforms, including Proposition 47, have fueled shoplifting by reducing its consequence, noting that these crimes are organized thefts that are felonies and that in the smash-and-grab incidents, the suspects blew through the $950-threshold for a felony in a few seconds.