SAN FRANCISCO(KRON)—District Attorney George Gascón announced Monday a massive retail theft ring based out of San Francisco has been busted.
The 16 defendants, who face charges including robbery, grand theft, commercial burglary and conspiracy, are linked to dozens of thefts in Union Square and other parts of San Francisco dating back to April of 2015 worth more than $225,000, Gascon said Monday.
Large groups of suspects would storm into stores, grabbing as much merchandise as possible then run out to waiting vehicles. The suspects became more brazen over time using pepper spray or knives in their robberies.
The unprecedented investigation into the organized retail theft ring has netted 16 suspects charged in 23 cases. San Francisco law enforcement noticed an uptick in these crimes in July of 2015 when a group called the Rainbow Crew began ransacking stores in San Francisco.
District Attorney Gascon says the bust found nearly $200,000 in merchandise stolen just in San Francisco.
Police credit a network of 300 cameras monitoring the Union Square shopping area to help crack the case.
This group of suspects traveled around the United States committing retail theft crimes. There are 10 additional cases in other cities including pending including Phoenix, Honolulu, Seattle, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Prosecutors allege the defendants all took part in a series of thefts that have evolved from simple snatch-and-grab operations, in which a large group would enter a store and take as much as they could before
fleeing, to more violent store takeover-style robberies involving the use of pepper spray or knives.
Lt. Valerie Matthews, head of investigations for Central Station, said that some of the individuals linked to crimes in other cities are allegedly responsible for as much as $1 million to $2 million in losses.
The crimes, Matthews said, are not just simple shoplifting.
“A lot of times it can be violent, it can be scary for employees, and the loss is just tremendous,” Matthews said.
The indictment announced today was the result of a collaborative effort by the District Attorney’s Office’s Crime Strategies Unit, which works to analyze and identify links between individual crimes, and police.
Connecting the crimes helps prosecutors pursue more serious charges and increase the likely sentences attached to any convictions.
“We have the analytic capacity to look at these cases and connect them as we did, not only with many other cases in San Francisco but also with cases in other jurisdictions,” Gascon said.
In addition, the effort was aided by the network of more than 300 high-definition surveillance video cameras installed by the Union Square Business Improvement District since 2012.
“If we don’t have the actual incident on camera we have the path of travel and other ways of identifying people who come and go in the district,” said Wes Taylor, general manager for the Chancellor Hotel and a member of the business improvement district.
“If you commit a crime in Union Square, you will be identified and you will be caught,” Taylor said.