March 18, 2013—March 18, 2013 -- A team of alleged shoplifters on a cross country spree robbed stores almost daily for several years and have swiped more than $3 million worth of goods, much of it computer equipment, court documents state.
The team of accused thieves was arrested March 7 in Hawthorne, Calif., after four months of surveillance by the FBI and police.
The arrests ended what police said was a shoplifting crime wave that bounced from California to Colorado, Washington and Florida and hit stores like Apple, Best Buy, Costco, Microsoft and Wal-Mart.
"They've been across the country in several states, and I'm sure the total amount stolen is even higher. This is just what we know of," Torrance Police Sgt. Robert Watt told ABC News. "More than 17 commercial burglaries in L.A. and Orange County alone. That's a lot."
The suspects were identified as Ausra Bauzinskaite, 34, Adeliya Nassybullina, 30, Lukasz Karasinski, 37, and Przemyslaw Skiba, 31, all from Chicago.
"During interview, the suspects described themselves as gypsies from Poland. They were trying to pay off a $2 million debt," Watt said.
They were charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit commercial burglary and grand theft. They pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned last week.
A fifth member of the group was deported earlier this month back to Poland on different charges, police said.
Police say the group would target a store by coming up with a "story" and entering the store all together. Four of the individuals would allegedly make a wall for the person stealing the merchandise, blocking the view of surveillance cameras, police said. That person would then conceal the item under an oversized dress or coat, according to court documents.
"Their main item of choice was hard drives, some of them ranging from $500 to $900," Watt said.
"They were in and out of stores within three to four minutes," Watt said. "Once they left with the stolen items, the group would mail the items back to Chicago to be fenced for cash."
Police say the ring's thefts appear to be daily and have been going on since 2009.
Detectives discovered surveillance video earlier in March 2013 that opened the investigation.
All four suspects remain in custody in county jail without bail and have been placed under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold.