California crime: 9 people charged for allegedly organizing statewide retail theft ring

Nine people were arrested and charged for allegedly organizing a retail theft ring throughout California, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Friday.

The suspects are charged with stealing items from major retail stores. According to the attorney general, the criminal organization operated in Los Angeles, Alameda, Fresno, Kern, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Ventura counties.

The arrests come following a three-month investigation by the California Highway Patrol into an organization known as the South American Theft Group. CHP officials say the group targeted well-known retailers throughout California since March of 2021.

Officials say the stolen merchandise came from major retailers, including Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, Abercrombie & Fitch, J.C. Penney, and Lululemon. 

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During a search and arrest operation in Los Angeles on March 21, officers arrested five of the targeted suspects and recovered approximately $62,000 in cash and $135,000 of stolen merchandise.

Another suspect from the operation was charged on Tuesday but remains at large.  Three other suspects were charged in a separate complaint filed Tuesday for allegedly possessing over $17,000 in stolen merchandise, according to the attorney general’s office

Luis Salcedo, 44, and Kevin Ramirez-Banol, 28, both of Los Angeles, and Christian Perez, 22, and Juan Samiento, 21, both of Hawthorne, were arrested on suspicion of receiving stolen property. Leobardo Leony, 58, of Bloomington, was also arrested and is suspected of conspiracy, organized retail theft, and receiving stolen property.

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"Organized retail theft hurts businesses, employees, and the public — and this criminal activity will not be tolerated in California," Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. 

"As our state’s chief law enforcement officer, I will continue to aggressively pursue and hold accountable those who participate in organized retail theft."

Organized retail crime has drastically increased throughout California. According to a 2020 national survey, U.S. retailers lost approximately $700,000 per every $1 billion in sales to organized retail crime.

Since the creation of CHP’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force in 2019, CHP along with  local law enforcement agencies, participated in 987 investigations, made 434 arrests, and recovered more than $20 million in merchandise.

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