By Amy Berberyan
BURLINGAME – California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the sentencing details Friday of the group of five people involved in an organized retail theft ring that resold items stolen from retailers in the Bay Area.
Bonta said that in September, 2020, a search and arrest warrant operation yielded upwards of $8 million of stolen goods from store chains including CVS, Walgreens and Target. An additional $85,000 was found within the defendants’ warehouse, storage facilities and homes.
All five defendants have now pleaded guilty to various felony charges, including “conspiracy to commit organized retail theft, receiving stolen property, money laundering, and a special allegation of the aggravated white collar enhancement of over $500,000,” according to the California Department of Justice’s statement.
On Feb. 2022, lead suspect Danny Louis Drago is scheduled to be sentenced to six years in state prison. The other four people accused are Edgar Geovany Robles Morales, Isis Vasquez Villanueva, Jose Villatoro and Michelle Renee Fowler.
All five defendants were arrested on Sept. 30, 2020 “during a search and arrest warrant operation in the San Francisco Bay Area,” according to the AG.
“The organized retail theft that we’re seeing in California and throughout the country are coordinated efforts by groups that are targeting stores with the intention of stealing as much as possible with no regard for the safety of the workers or consumers in those businesses,” Bonta noted.
“In this case, we see that the coordination doesn’t stop at the initial theft. Groups are in turn reselling items, and in many cases using them to fund additional illicit activity, including human trafficking and organized crime. The defendants in this case have been held to account for their crimes, and I can assure you, others will be as well,” he concluded.
San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos G. Bolanos said “the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office is committed to ensuring the safety and security of our residents, businesses, and visitors. As law enforcement professionals, we will continue to have active dialogue with our local business owners and a strong and visible presence in the communities we serve.”
“Those who come to San Mateo County and engage in any form of organized retail theft or violent acts will be thoroughly investigated and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” added Sheriff Bolanos.
San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said “the joint investigation and prosecution of these individuals show that the premeditated retail theft actions of criminal groups in multiple cities across Northern California is intolerable and will not be accepted by District Attorneys, the Attorney General, law enforcement officials, and our community members.”
“Anyone caught engaging in such criminal conduct will face similar prosecution, conviction, and incarceration,” continued Wagstaffe. “Further, we will seize and forfeit any and all proceeds stemming from this illegal activity to the State.”
A joint investigation by the California Department of Justice’s White Collar Investigation Team, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Crime Suppression Unit, the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, and the California Highway Patrol led to the arrests.
The convicted individuals were discovered to have transported, stored, and sold stolen goods outside of the U.S. and then laundered money back into the country. As the investigation continued, $1,874,633.65 was taken from various bank accounts linked to the group.
Flower pleaded guilty to “one count of felony organized retail theft, one count of felony receiving stolen property, as well as an aggravated white collar enhancement,” according to the press statement by the AG.
Though she was sentenced to three years in state prison, the execution of said sentence will be suspended pending successful completion of two years of formal supervised probation, including 364 days in San Mateo County jail.
Robles Morales and Villanueva both pleaded guilty to “felony conspiracy to commit organized retail theft,” according to the press release. They were sentenced to probation with 364 days of electronic monitoring or a work program.
As stated in the same press release, Villatoro pleaded guilty “to receiving stolen property, and was sentenced to probation and 30 days in jail.”
Drago, the lead accused in this case, pleaded guilty to “one count of conspiracy to commit organized retail theft, receiving stolen property, and money laundering, and admitted the special allegation of the aggravated white collar enhancement of over $500,000.”
According to the AG Office, “his plea agreement stipulates a term of six years in state prison.” His sentencing will take place on Feb. 25, 2022.