L.A. smash-and-grab trio who targeted Prada, Versace and Gucci charged by AG after LAPD probe

PLAYA DEL REY, CA - APRIL 28: California Attorney General Rob Bonta, flanked by his legal team, announced Thursday at Dockweiler State Beach that his office has launched an unprecedented investigation into the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries' alleged role in causing and exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis on Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Playa Del Rey, CA. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said a smash-and-grab theft crew is accused of stealing more than $300,000 worth of merchandise in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Los Angeles, the Bay Area and San Diego. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles smash-and-grab theft crew targeting Prada, Versace, Gucci and other high-end stores across California have been arrested by an LAPD task force and charged with 27 felonies, the state's attorney general announced Tuesday.

Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said the trio is accused of stealing more than $300,000 worth of merchandise in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Los Angeles, the Bay Area and San Diego. Bonta said the ringleader of the crew faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted of all the charges related to smash and grabs from December 2022 until last month.

"To be clear, this isn't about a couple of one-off instances of a shoplifted Louis Vuitton wallet or swiped a pair of Prada sunglasses. This was organized. These were organized burglaries and attempted burglaries where suspects would rip the bags off the displays, even when the products were secured to displays with locks," Bonta said, speaking at LAPD headquarters.

Workers at Burberry, Prada, Sunglass Hut, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Michael Kors, Gucci, Coach, Versace, and Maison Margiela were put at risk by the bandits, who allegedly shoved aside store workers as they snatched designer clothes and accessories, he said.

"These aren't victimless crimes," Bonta said, alleging that the suspects sometimes used force against workers as they ran out of a store. "Other times they overwhelmed the stores with large numbers of people in disguise brazenly ransacking high-end products," he added. "If you steal from our businesses and put people in harm's way, if you try to make an easy buck off of other people's hard work, we will prosecute it as we are today."

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Bonta said the Los Angeles Police Department organized retail theft task force identified the crew behind the smash and grabs across six counties. The charges carry the possibility of decades of imprisonment, he said, which should send a message to others doing or considering such crimes.

A string of flash mob robberies of luxury goods stores around Los Angeles last summer drew national attention, with video clips showing group's running out of stores. Mayor Karen Bass responded by announcing a new task force to target the culprits.

LAPD Deputy Chief Alan Hamilton said two of the trio were arrested by the task force while a third was already in custody. Although they were charged with the theft of $300,000 worth of goods across six counties, Hamilton said, evidence suggests that more than $900,000 worth of items may have been snatched by the crew.

Isaiah Abdullah, Ishmael Baptist and Nickolas Mallory are charged with conspiring to steal with intent to sell on two or more occasions from some of the best-known designer stores. All three have multiple felony convictions for crimes including robbery.

The run of smash and grabs began Dec. 12, when authorities allege that Abdullah ripped off nearly $3,000 worth of Burberry items from an Orange County store. According to the charges, their biggest score came at Louis Vitton in San Diego County, where Abdullah and Mallory were accused of taking more than $33,000 in merchandise.

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Bonta said that within a day or two of the smash and grab, the suspects would sell the stolen designer wares "through Instagram stories — that was their chosen platform for resale."

Two of the thefts involved such force that prosecutors charged Abdullah and Mallory with robbery in connection with an incident last October and Abdullah for another incident in January.

Hamilton and Bonta said that although firearms weren't used in the crimes, a total of five firearms were recovered during searches of places tied to the suspects; one of the weapons, they said, was a fully automated Glock pistol. One of the firearms recovered also led to charges in a separate crime case.

Hamilton said the task force has many other ongoing cases in the works. Pushing back against a reporter's suggestion that the department was soft on retail theft, Hamilton said there would be additional arrests, more felony charges and some suspects held on very high bail amounts, like the suspects in this case, where bail was set at $1 million.

Bonta also took umbrage with the narrative that criminal justice reforms such as Proposition 47, which made thefts of less than $950 in goods a misdemeanor, have encouraged smash and grab thieves. The offenses charged in this case weren't misdemeanors, Bonta said, and the value of goods stolen is well above the misdemeanor threshold, meaning that Proposition 47 has nothing to do with them.

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"We're not turning a blind eye to these criminal schemes, whether it's stealing hundreds of thousands or sometimes millions of dollars in merchandise," Bonta, said. "They disrupt our economy, and they endanger the public. They endanger workers."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.