Flurry of organized retail theft busts in Bay Area

Bay Area law enforcement were busy this week, busting organized retail crime suspects across the region. Experts say organized retail theft shows no signs of slowing. 

"I do think it's getting worse," said Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association.

Some of the suspects were repeat offenders. Carmelita Barela, 40, was arrested this week by SFPD for allegedly taking part in repeated thefts from the Bath & Body Works store at the Westfield Mall on Market Street. Total haul? At least $15,000.

Barela was previously convicted in federal court for stealing from the Walgreens store at Post and Franklin in San Francisco. Barela reportedly coughed during the incident, telling a manager, "I have Covid." She was sentenced to time served.

"We don't have a consequence for the behavior," said Michelin. "They need to be held accountable."

Michelin says organized retail theft is a lucrative trade.

"Now, it's easier to steal and sell retail goods than it used to be to make drugs and sell it on the street," she said. Stolen goods have also shown up at flea markets or online.

"People will sell it. It's easy money. They know something, they sell it on the street, they'll sell it on an online marketplace, they make money off of that, they put it in their pocket," Michelin said.

On Wednesday, Berkeley police arrested Leon Krigbaum and John Iles in a three-month spree of jacket thefts at REI. The estimated loss is at least $17,000.

Michelin says, to the uninitiated, it may seem that thieves need the items they're stealing.

"It's not stealing baby formula or diapers because they need it for their personal use, but it's a market. I mean, I see stores of stolen goods, it'll be in someone's garage," Michelin said.

Concord police say they found a fencing location in Oakland and notified the CHP's organized retail crime task force. On Tuesday, CHP officers recovered stolen items, $17,000 in cash and two guns.

"These cases are fairly rarely consolidated in just one location. They can expand to neighboring cities or across the state," said CHP Officer Andrew Barclay.

Henry Lee is a KTVU crime reporter. E-mail Henry at Henry.Lee@fox.com and follow him on Twitter @henrykleeKTVU and www.facebook.com/henrykleefan