The latest in a string of shoplifting apprehensions by a special team of undercover Manteca Police officers saw the arrest Friday afternoon of Fidel Lopez, Jr., 21, at the J.C. Penney store at the Highway 120 Bypass and Union Road.
Manteca officers on a special assignment, approved by Chief Dave Bricker, have been attempting to bring a stop to a rash of shoplifters who have been hitting stores day after day in the community from J.C. Penney’s to Costco.
Kohl’s last year suffered losses amounting to $600,000 and J.C. Penney’s had $200,000 in merchandise taken from their store. Those numbers don’t begin to account for the total losses city wide by shoplifters.
Lopez and his alleged partner Joshua Flores, 19, of Hughson had entered the store shortly after 3 p.m. with a plan, officers said, to steal clothing.
Store security officers said the pair was seen going into the same dressing room together with 15 pieces of clothing including shirts, pants and belts where they allegedly concealed the items under their clothing and left the store.
Officer Dave Brown confirmed that none of the missing items were found in the dressing room after the two men exited the store by the west side doors heading south to a parked car.
Flores was able to flee as Lopez was detained by store loss prevention officers. He was last seen leaving the parking lot in a white Chevy pickup truck as the store employees wrote down his license number. Officer Brown said the truck was registered to the man’s parents in Hughson and Stanislaus County deputies were contacted to go by the home and look for the suspect.
The Manteca officer said Lopez admitted to him that he and his partner came to the Manteca store planning to steal clothing and said they had discussed their plot while sitting in the store’s parking lot.
Lopez was charged with burglary and conspiracy in taking the estimated $300 in merchandise, Brown said. Flores was arrested in Hughson later Friday night by Stanislaus County deputies and returned to Manteca where charges for burglary and conspiracy were filed against him as well.
The undercover officer said that he and a team on special assignment since early May have arrested countless shoplifters in the rash of thefts that have plagued the Manteca area stores including Old Navy, Kohl’s , Target, Best Buy, Bass Pro and T. J. Maxx.
$700 a day at JC Penney
At J.C. Penney’s alone thieves have made off with as much as $700 a day in merchandise in three to five daily instances. Brown said in many cases a shoplifter will work with a second person who sets up a distraction to hide from the store workers.
People actually walk out of the stores with large bags filled with merchandise, the officer said. When conspiracy is established and there is a large amount taken it is defined as burglary.
“For the most part the loss prevention officers continue to conduct business as usual; we work with them to prevent the more brazen thefts,” he said.
Brown said officers normally contact the suspects outside the stores and locate associates who are sitting outside in the parking lots in getaway vehicles and being ready to intervene in a fight. This is an attempt to be proactive outside the regular patrol duties, he added.
At about 8 p.m. Friday a couple on parole entered the Penney’s store and allegedly stole a pair of earrings and a pair of women’s panties that the man had reportedly crumpled up in his pocket.
Brown said the man had already removed the tag from the jewelry when contacted by the store’s loss prevention officers. Arrested for violation of their parole were Richard Cervantez, 36, of Stockton who was found with a drug pipe in his pocket and reportedly under the influence, officers said. He had been on parole for a conviction on the sale of drugs.
Reanna Francis, 33, also had her parole status violated for her participation with Cervantez in the theft, Brown said. The total value of the merchandise was about $65.
The undercover officer referred to one of the earliest shoplifting cases in the sweep in early May that saw the arrest of Adam Sutherland who pled out to burglary and just received an 18- month jail sentence this week.
Brown said Sutherland had gone into the store and collected $900 in pants and left the store without anyone seeing him. He was pulled over by an officer in a traffic stop a short time later and was connected to the department store theft.
Stockton and Modesto residents have been plaguing the Manteca stores, the officer noted. They do it all the time going from store to store and actually make a living by shoplifting. The clothing can be sold at flea markets on the weekend.
Brown said the responsibles come from every ethnic background, gender and age taking everything from ear rings to thousands of dollars in clothing. He added that merchandise is not only hidden on a person but is also placed in baby strollers that are pushed out the front or side doors.
Last Monday night at Penney’s one person left wearing five pair of pants and four shirts totaling over $400 in value, the officer said.
The undercover officer warned that police can be city-wide in any store on any particular day to arrest thieves who are taking merchandise from local businesses.