Southern California Woman Charged in Alleged $8-Million Retail Theft Operation

Kos Temenes
By Kos Temenes
February 19, 2024California
Southern California Woman Charged in Alleged $8-Million Retail Theft Operation
An Ulta Beauty sign in Levittown, New York, on March 16, 2020. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The female ringleader of a California-based organized retail crime scheme—who was involved in the theft of cosmetics in some 21 counties across the state—was charged on Feb. 16.

The announcement was made by California’s Attorney General, Rob Bonta. The scheme involved an estimated $8-million worth of beauty products, and included multiple operatives who were paid to steal specific goods from Ulta Beauty stores and other retail outlets. The stolen cosmetic items were then sold on the ringleader’s Amazon Storefront.

Organized retail crime has significant financial and safety implications for businesses, retailers, and consumers,” Mr. Bonta said in a press release.

The investigation came as part of a joint effort by California’s Department of Justice (DOJ), California Highway Patrol (CHP), the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The agencies were joined by Ulta’s loss-prevention organized retail crime team and representatives from personal care-product retailer, Sephora.

“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. As the leading law enforcement official in our state, my dedication lies in actively pursuing and bringing to justice those who violate the law. Ending crime is a team effort,“ Mr. Bonta said.

According to California Highway Patrol Commissioner Sean Duryee, the strong partnership between law enforcement, prosecutors, and retailers is fundamental in the fight against organized retail crime.

“The CHP’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force frequently collaborates with all stakeholders to identify solutions for reducing organized retail theft, identifying current trends, sharing best practices, and (sharing) actionable intelligence. This case is the perfect example of collaboration resulting in justice,” he said.

Dan Petrousek, senior vice president of loss prevention at Ulta Beauty, praised the agencies for their commitment to the joint investigation, and reaffirmed his department will continue to work with authorities to combat retail theft in the state, as well as nationwide.

“The rise in organized retail crime affects all retailers, consumers, and communities, and we believe it’s important to take action to deter the criminals perpetuating this problem,” he said.

“Not only does organized retail crime jeopardize the safety of our store associates and guests, but it also results in potentially unsafe or damaged products being resold online to consumers under false pretenses,” he added.

Recent searches of residences, assisted by representatives from Ulta and Sephora, revealed around $400,000 in stolen product. A search of the ringleader’s residence uncovered a well-organized operation, with products still in their manufacturer’s packaging, prepared and ready for dispatch. Nationwide, the illicit revenue from the multi-year theft operation is estimated to have been close to $8 million.

The ringleader allegedly recruited multiple young men and women to steal vast amounts of specific high-demand makeup products from the stores, which she then sold on her online Amazon Storefront for a fraction of the retail price.

Surveillance cameras caught the individuals responsible for the thefts, who are also being charged in the case. The thefts occurred across 21 counties, namely Alameda, Placer, Kern, Contra Costa, Orange, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, San Diego, Sacramento, San Mateo, Solano, Riverside, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Napa, Marin, Tulare, San Bernadino, Sonoma, Ventura, and Yolo counties.

The individuals involved are facing multiple charges by the California Department of Justice, including organized retail theft, conspiracy, receipt of stolen property, and multiple counts of grand theft.

Retail theft in California has been rife in recent years. Commercial burglaries, specifically, have seen a spike of more than 50 percent in some counties from 2019 to 2022.

State Assembly speaker Robert Rivas announced legislation on Feb. 15 aimed at combatting shoplifting and commercial retail theft.

The California Retail Theft Reduction Act was described by Mr. Rivas as “critical legislation” to address “a serious crime that’s hurting businesses and impacting our communities.”

“Crime, like everything, evolves. And criminal enterprises are using new and different ways to get around current prohibitions … It is our responsibility to ensure that our laws are addressing the situation at hand,” Mr. Rivas said, according to The San Francisco Standard.

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.