Police: CA woman ran national retail theft ring that stole an estimated $8 million in merchandise

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a state woman has been arrested for hatching a nationwide shoplifting scheme where millions of dollars of makeup and clothing were stolen from hundreds of stores spanning over a decade. 

According to Bonta’s complaint, over $300,000 worth of makeup and other products were found at the home of Michelle and Kenneth Mack’s Bonsall, California home, after a search warrant was served on Dec. 6, 2023, Fox News reported.  

According to the complaint, Mack is accused of paying airfare, hotel, and rental car costs for a network of women to travel nationwide, where they would go out and steal goods and then send them back to Michelle Mack’s home. She would then sell the stolen goods at a discount via Amazon Marketplace. 

Bonta said the group, known as the “California Girls,” operated in a dozen states nationwide and targeted stores including LensCrafters, Sephora, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Prada, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, Sunglass Hut, and over 231 Ulta Beauty stores, NBC San Diego reported. 

Inside Mack's 4,500 square-foot Spanish-style mansion, authorities discovered a "mini store" with beauty products, sunglasses, and designer bags. Also found were hundreds of postmarked envelopes containing stolen products ready to be shipped to unsuspecting customers at a fraction of their retail price. 

According to Yahoo News, the crime ring operated in stores up and down the California coast and in states such as Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Illinois, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Ohio. Mack chose the stores to be targeted and directed what merchandise was to be taken. The women would clear out entire shelves of merchandise into Louis Vitton bags before making off with the merchandise, investigators allege. 

Bonta believes Mack made “millions” through her nationwide shoplifting scheme. While Mack was arrested in early December, the scheme only came to light this week. 

Any news viewer (other than MSNBC and CNN) knows Mack is not alone. That has led some companies to lock up merchandise, hire security guards, lobby lawmakers for stricter regulations, or, in some cases, close their stores in high-crime areas entirely. 

Unlike most flash mob “smash and grab” robberies typically seen on television, many of these organized groups steal the goods “quickly, quietly, and efficiently,” Yahoo News said. Police say in some cases, they operate “within elaborate, organized structures that in some ways mimic the corporations they’re stealing from.” 

CNBC did a deep dive into organized retail theft and embedded with a number of law enforcement agencies to understand how it operates at the ground level. Some of the shoplifting incidents they witnessed were typical, run-of-the-mill shoplifting involving people who looked either homeless or mentally ill. 

In other cases, CNBC saw organized retail groups taken down that were selling stolen merchandise at flea markets. However, they noted that Mack’s operation was “by far the most sophisticated one CNBC tracked alongside police.” 

However, some are even more organized. CNBC reported that federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said some groups even have fleets of trucks to move stolen goods. 

“We’re talking about operations that have fleets of trucks,18-wheelers that have palletized loads of stolen goods, that have cleaning crews that actually clean the goods to make them look brand new,” said Adam Parks, assistant special agent in charge at HSI, the main federal agency investigating retail crime. 

“Just like any business, they’ve invested their capital into business assets like shrink wrap machines and forklifts,” said Parks, who works out of the Baton Rogue, Lousiana office, to CNBC. That is what organized theft looks like, and it actually is indistinguishable from other e-commerce distribution centers.” 

According to the National Retail Federation, retailers lost $40.5 billion to external theft, including organized retail crime, in 2022, which accounted for about 36% of total inventory losses. 

Some retailers are concerned about the safety of workers and shoppers as much as they are about the amount of shrink they’re dealing with. 

“The financial impact is real, but way more important is the human impact, the impact it has to our associates, the impact it has to our guests,” Ulta CEO Dave Kimbell told CNBC in a sit-down interview. 

“It also impacts the communities in which we live,” he said. “If people don’t feel safe going in to shop in certain areas of a community, it really has an impact and can change neighborhoods and change communities over time.” 

In the California case, Bonta said it wasn’t about “garden-variety shoplifting.” 

‘This is a multi-million dollar criminal scheme. It was complex. It was orchestrated,' Bonta said in a press release from February when the charges were announced. "We are not talking about garden-variety shoplifting."

Bonta estimated current losses in the case are about $8 million, however the investigation continues and the total loss may go beyond that amount. 

“If you try to make an easy buck off of other people’s hard work, we will arrest and prosecute you,” Bonta said. “We are addressing an audacious instance of organized retail theft and making it clear that such criminal activity will not be accepted in California.” 

Among court documents were incriminating texts between Mack, her husband, and some of their crew of thieves. 

“I’m not stealing regular I’m going to start filling up my bag quick. So I want to know stuff I can grab in bulks too,” said one of the defendants, Kimora Lee Gooding, in a Jan. 7, 2023 text to Mack. 

A few days later, Mack texted her husband: “Even without Lancome we still did well,” to which he replied, “Lots of orders let’s get shipping.” 

An Ulta spokesperson told Fox News Digital that the company was pleased to partner with the California DOJ and the Attorney General’s Office on the investigation. 

“The rise in organized retail crime affects all retailers, consumers, and communities, and we believe it’s important to take action to deter the criminals perpetuating this problem. Not only does organized retail crime jeopardize the safety of our store associates and guests, but it also results in potentially unsafe or damaged products being resold online to consumers under false pretenses,” the spokesperson said.

“We will continue to work closely with authorities to decrease the occurrence of retail theft that not only affects our stores but retailers nationwide.” 

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