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Kingpins plead guilty, face years in prison over $8 million retail theft ring

California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Friday announced five people have been convicted of crimes linked to a retail theft ring that involved $8 million in merchandise stolen from stores throughout the Bay Area.

Speaking in Burlingame, Bonta made the announcement alongside law enforcement officials from San Mateo County, where a majority of the thefts occurred, Bonta said.

The announcement came on the heels of a multi-city wave of smash-and-grab robberies and burglaries.

Bonta said:

The organized retail theft we’re seeing throughout California, it’s unacceptable. Let’s be clear.”

The investigation, which began in April 2020, revealed a theft ring in which five suspects transported, stored and sold merchandise stolen from retail stores in the Bay Area. The stolen goods, which also included over-the-counter medication, was then resold on places such as eBay, according to prosecutors.

Bonta said:

Organized criminals resell their stolen goods, and in many cases, use the money to fund additional illicit activity like organized crime and human trafficking for example. Those who break the law and peddle stolen goods, they will be held accountable. … The lead defendant organized what we believe is one of the largest retail theft rings to have ever been busted in state history.”

San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos described the ring as:

… a hierarchy of criminals who were purchasing and distributing stolen property consisting mostly of retail merchandise and electronics.”

He added:

It was a network of criminals responsible for an international distribution center, moving millions of dollars in stolen merchandise.”

San Mateo Assistant District Attorney Shin-Mee Chang said:

“This case is a great example of how organized retail theft rings are wreaking havoc across county lines and how through collaboration we can really do something to combat these crimes that are plaguing our community.”

The five defendants — Danny Louis Drago, Michelle Renee Fowler, Jose Villatoro, Isis Vasquez Villanueva, and Edgar Geovany Robles Morales — were arrested in September of 2020. At the time, more than $1.8 million was seized from multiple bank accounts, prosecutors said.

The lead defendant, Drago, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit organized retail theft, receiving stolen property, and money laundering, and an aggravated white collar crime enhancement. He’s set to be sentenced in February and could receive up to six years in prison, prosecutors said.

Fowler pleaded guilty to organized retail theft, receiving stolen property, and an aggravated white collar enhancement. She was sentenced to three years in prison, with two years of supervised probation.

Robles Morales and Villanueva have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit organized retail theft. They’ve both been sentenced to probation.

Villatoro pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property and was sentenced to probation, according to prosecutors.

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