Four suspects arrested on suspicion of stealing $72,000 worth of store merchandise on Tuesday are believed to be members of an organized retail theft operation that travels throughout the state, according to law enforcement officials.
The investigation stems from officers at the California Highway Patrol Southern Division, Organized Crime Task Force, or ORCTF, receiving a report Tuesday morning of a smash-and-run grand theft at a Lululemon Athletica in Studio City.
Soon after the theft was originally reported at 11:20 a.m., officers with the CHP Newhall Office spotted the alleged suspects’ vehicle on Interstate 5, near Magic Mountain Parkway, and a pursuit was initiated. After reaching speeds close to 120 mph, heading northbound on the freeway, the suspects’ vehicle crashed in the Grapevine and all four were arrested.
ORCTF officers, who are also heading up the investigation into the incident, said Friday they believe the four suspects could be responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars of theft throughout the state of California recently.
“We believe that this crew, or at least some of the members of this crew, are responsible for other thefts similar to this one among different counties in the state of California,” said Lt. Adam Smith, team leader for the ORCTF Southern Division team. “Currently, what we’re doing now is we’re working with other law enforcement agencies and retailers to try to determine what this crew’s reach was and what the total loss would have been.”
Smith confirmed that the four suspects, all in their late teens or early 20’s, were all booked on suspicion of violating California Penal Code 490.4(A), or committing organized retail theft. This specific charge, Smith said, has been used by ORCTF and other law enforcement agencies more frequently in past years as organized retail theft crews have become more and more prominent.
“(That law) was created so we can appropriately charge these organized crews because, as we’ve seen, shoplifting has evolved to more than just shoplifting,” said Smith. “It’s become a business enterprise for a lot of people; whether it’s gangs, people exploiting the homeless communities, people are now profiting from this and they’re making a business out of it.”
The suspected driver of the getaway vehicle was also arrested on suspicion of evading a police officer by driving in a reckless manner, and additional charges could be added for all four suspects once the CHP investigation is presented to prosecutors.
“There will most likely be a slew of charges that come out of this,” said Smith. “We don’t plan on filing this case with the (L.A. County District Attorney’s Office); we’re already working with the state attorney general’s office, and that’s where we’ll most likely file the case.”
Smith added that taking the case to the attorney general’s office was not an uncommon practice for a state police agency, as the alleged crimes of the four suspects span multiple counties.
However, while the investigators continue to conduct their investigation and collect evidence, the ORCTF team lead confirmed to The Signal that all four suspects had been released from law enforcement custody on Wednesday, pending the filing of their criminal case.
“If you’re obviously going to take someone to court immediately, you have to wrap the entire case package up with a bow on and ready to go,” said Smith. “In this case, as we found, there’s a lot more we’re seeing that we believe this crew is involved in. So, it benefits us and the community more to hold off on the filing while we do our follow-up investigation. Then we can file the entire case.”