Guilty pleas in San Mateo County organized retail theft ring

Five members of an organized crime ring responsible for the theft of millions of dollars of property have pleaded guilty, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said Friday.

"Those who break the law and peddle stolen goods, they will be held accountable. And today, they are," Bonta said outside a CVS Pharmacy in Burlingame while flanked by San Mateo County sheriff's officials and a prosecutor.

Bonta announced the convictions in one of the state's largest retail-theft crime rings.

The lead defendant, Danny Drago, is expected to be sentenced in February to six years in state prison.

"He and members of his crime ring have pleaded guilty to felony charges, including conspiracy to commit organized retail theft," Bonta said.

The law enforcement crackdown was dubbed "Operation POP," for proof of purchase. Laptops, electronics, cameras and other items were stolen in San Mateo County, including from CVS pharmacies.

Investigators learned that a group in San Francisco's Tenderloin was selling the stolen property to suspects operating a distribution warehouse in Concord. 

"Detectives identified a hierarchy of criminals who were purchasing and distributing stolen property consisting mostly of retail merchandise and electronics," said San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos.

Authorities seized $8 million in stolen property and $85,000 in cash.

Investigators seized $1.8 million from the defendants' bank accounts. The other four in the ring were sentenced either to probation or jail terms ranging from a month to just under a year. 

The guilty pleas come as law enforcement throughout the Bay Area continue to grapple with large-scale thefts.

"Smash and grabs. Luxury store shakedowns. The pillaging of department stores. The organized retail theft we're seeing throughout the country and in California, is unacceptable," Bonta said.

Law enforcement, including local district attorneys and the California Highway Patrol, are working together to identify these kinds of thieves. 

"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," said Shin-Mee Chang, a San Mateo County assistant district attorney.