TORRANCE, Calif. - Four Chicago residents have told detectives here they are part of a Gypsy family from Poland responsible for shoplifting crimes at electronics stores across the United States, stealing about $3 million in property over the last year.
The suspected thieves arrested March 8 are believed responsible for 17 crimes at Apple stores in southern California, as well as thefts at Best Buy, Costco, PetSmart, Sam's Club, Sports Authority and Wal-Mart, said police Sgt. Robert Watt.
In addition, the group allegedly victimized businesses in Colorado, Washington and Florida, Watt said.
"This is more than just shoplifting," Watt said. "This is an organized group that has targeted electronics stores for a long period of time and stolen a large amount of property that's well into the millions of dollars," he said.
Police identified the suspects as Ausra Bauzinskaite, 34; Adeliya Nassybullina, 30; Lukasz Karasinski, 37; and Przemyslaw Skiba, 31, all of Chicago. They were being held without bail, under a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold.
The District Attorney's Office has charged them with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit commercial burglary and grand theft; each pleaded not guilty March 12 in Torrance court.
Torrance detectives identified the group as suspects following a March 2012 crime at a MacMall. Surveillance cameras captured the group on video, Watt said.
During the crime and others like it, the men would stand in a position to block employees from seeing the women behind them. The men selected items from shelves and passed them to the women, who would hide them in their oversized dresses and overcoats, or in purses, Watt said.
The group targeted various items, but focused on hard drives available on store shelves, he said.
"They are only in the store for about two to three minutes," Watt said. "They are conspiring together. ... They all appear to have some kind of role. "
After investigating for four months, detectives learned the group had flown into Southern California from Illinois on March 7 for a court appearance in Santa Monica related to an earlier theft.
"Torrance investigators conducted surveillance and observed the subjects commit additional thefts at Apple stores throughout both Los Angeles and Orange counties," Watt said. "Upon completing the thefts, the subjects attempted to mail the stolen property to various out-of-state locations.'
Once the suspects were arrested, police recovered more than $20,000 worth of Apple products, Watt said.
During interviews, group members identified themselves as a Gypsy family from Chicago that originated in Poland and admitted to shoplifting so they could pay off a $2 million debt their family had incurred several years earlier, Watt said.
Detectives described the group as a "retail theft ring" and said the arrests might lead to more evidence, suspects and victims. Investigators are working with police agencies throughout the country.
A store manager at the MacMall in Torrance said he recalled the theft and watching the video. The suspects took some high-end Thunderbolt external hard drives which sell for $600 to $700.
Since then, employees have kept a closer watch on the merchandise and customers, the manager said.