SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — More than a dozen people are facing charges for a series of store thefts in San Francisco and other cities across the country after a major police bust.
The gang of thieves has been breaking into stores across the Bay Area and stealing pricey merchandise for years. The message from the San Francisco District Attorney is that the smash-and-grab robberies in Union Square have got to stop.
“If you’re intending to commit a crime in the Union Square area, don’t,” said District Attorney George Gascon.
You might remember images of the “Rainbow Crew” from past reports on smash-and-grab robberies in San Francisco. The group got its nickname for wearing bright colored clothing while carrying out jobs in Union Square.
The 16 defendants, who face charges including robbery, grand theft, commercial burglary and conspiracy, are linked to dozens of thefts in Union Square and other parts of San Francisco dating back to April of 2015 worth more than $225,000, Gascon said Monday.
Local authorities are also providing information to help prosecute another 10 people allegedly connected with the ring for crimes in other jurisdictions including San Jose, Houston, Dallas, Honolulu, Seattle and Los Angeles, Gascon said.
They’ve been together since 2010, but in 2015, the robberies took a violent turn.
“This is the ‘Rainbow Crew.’ That name has been thrown around in different capacities for a while now. They started using pepper spray on people who worked in the stores,” explained Assistant District Attorney Frank Carrubba. “They’d ask for expensive cases to be opened and pushed people out of the way and grab large dollar amount items.”
From April 2015 to July 2016, the DA says the gang hit places like Ferragamo for more than $60,000. Christian Dior, Sunglass Hut, Mac Cosmetics, Louis Vuitton and even Walgreens were targeted.
Gascon said there is one thing the public can do to help: stop buying the stolen goods.
“If you’re out on the street and someone’s offering you sunglasses for 40 or 50 bucks and they retail for a much higher amount, they’re obviously going to be fake or stolen,” said Gascon.
Lt. Valerie Matthews, head of investigations for Central Station, said that some of the individuals linked to crimes in other cities are allegedly responsible for as much as $1 million to $2 million in losses.
The crimes, Matthews said, are not just simple shoplifting.
“A lot of times it can be violent, it can be scary for employees, and the loss is just tremendous,” Matthews said.
The indictment announced Monday was the result of a collaborative effort by the District Attorney’s Office’s Crime Strategies Unit, which works to analyze and identify links between individual crimes, and police.
Connecting the crimes helps prosecutors pursue more serious charges and increase the likely sentences attached to any convictions.
“We have the analytic capacity to look at these cases and connect them as we did, not only with many other cases in San Francisco but also with cases in other jurisdictions,” Gascon said.
In addition, the effort was aided by the network of more than 300 high-definition surveillance video cameras installed by the Union Square Business Improvement District since 2012.
“If we don’t have the actual incident on camera we have the path of travel and other ways of identifying people who come and go in the district,” said Wes Taylor, general manager for the Chancellor Hotel and a member of the business improvement district.