Visalia Ross foils shoplifters’ spree

(Rigo Moran)

Ross Loss Prevention Team blows the whistle on two shoplifters for $680 in stolen merchandise; Visalia police discover stolen goods from other local Ross stores while making arrest

VISALIA – The Loss Prevention Team at Ross Dress for Less on Dinuba Boulevard has been credited for bringing a shoplifting spree to an end after notifying Visalia Police about suspicious behavior.

Visalia police officers were able to quickly set up surveillance in the parking lot outside of the location and nabbed the suspects as they walked to their car. The two suspects, Leo Aguilera-Cardenas, 31, and Daniela Aguilera-Cardenas, 21, were found with $680 in stolen merchandise in their possession. Police found $2,200 more in stolen property from other Ross stores in local areas in the couple’s vehicle.

The shoplifters have been booked into the Visalia Adult Pre-Trial Facility for grand theft, possession of burglary tools and conspiracy to commit a crime.

The arrest comes as California is cracking down on retail theft. On Feb. 16, the same day as the Visalia Ross bust, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced charges against a woman who is alleged to have masterminded a retail theft ring that impacted 21 counties and was responsible for $8 million in damages.

The ringleader is alleged to have paid accomplices to steal beauty and cosmetics products from Sephora and Ulta Beauty stores, which were then sold on an Amazon marketplace. The organized criminal operation spanned several years, according to a press release from Bonta.

“Organized retail crime has significant financial and safety implications for businesses, retailers and consumers,” the statement reads. “Today, we are addressing an audacious instance of organized retail theft and making it clear that such criminal activity will not be accepted in California.”

The bust was a coordinated effort that involved the Attorney General’s office, the California Highway Patrol and employees of Ulta Beauty and Sephora. At the time of the arrest, the unnamed woman accused of being the ringleader was found to be in possession of $400,000 worth of product, some of which was packaged for shipping.

Thefts from beauty supply stores are often high-dollar crimes. In February 2023, five people went into an Ulta Beauty store in Porterville and walked out with $26,000 in merchandise. Two of the suspects were eventually caught and charged for the crime.

State legislators recently held hearings on the topic of retail theft in Sacramento. Magnus Lofstrom, policy director of criminal justice and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, addressed the Assembly Select Committee on Retail Theft on Dec. 23, 2023, and explained how the apparent rise in crimes measures up against historical numbers.

According to Lofstrom, there has been a rise in shoplifting crimes since the pandemic, but California’s numbers remain below that of pre-pandemic thefts.

“Beginning with a statewide overview of the last decade or so, shoplifting remains 8% below pre-pandemic levels, despite a 29% jump in 2022 from 2019,” Lofstrom said. He added that there are limitations to the data, including that small amounts of shoplifting are likely unreported.

Data sets compiled by the PPIC also do not differentiate from smash-and-grab thefts or organized crime, making it difficult to analyze what is driving the trends.

Lofstrom said that the data indicated commercial burglary had risen much more sharply, particularly in more populous counties. Data was not provided for Tulare County, but Fresno County saw a 71% jump in commercial robbery between 2019 and 2022. Shoplifting is defined by stealing amounts less than $950, while commercial burglary is a more serious offense based on higher-value thefts. California charges shoplifting as a petty crime and a misdemeanor below the $950 threshold.

The highest increase statewide of commercial robberies is in Fresno County. These crimes typically involve cash thefts with the use of force or a threat to use force. Robberies, according to the data from PPIC, are slightly up across California.

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