SAN DIEGO — San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced a renewed push and how she plans to hold thieves accountable for organized retail theft in San Diego.

“San Diego is not the good place to come and do this, we are going to find you, we are going to find you,” Stephan said outside of an ULTA Beauty store Monday afternoon.

Stephan met with ULTA Beauty loss prevention management and employees as she toured their San Marcos location.

The store on Las Posas Road was hit last year by an organized retail theft ring that operated all throughout Southern California.

“The San Marcos store was one of 21 ULTA Beauty stores targeted by one of the defendants who stole $127,000 worth of fragrances in just one month,” the DA’s office said in a news release Monday.

“During their last incident in 2022, the group encountered San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputies who were waiting in the ULTA Beauty parking lot and took up pursuit” the release went on to say. “A bicyclist was hit by the defendants’ car as they tried to avoid arrest.”

Authorities found eight bags of fragrances were in the car with defendants, who were sentenced to up to four years in prison.

This has to stop, our laws are too weak, they are not addressing the issue that is costing our nation $94 billion in 1 year,” she added.

Stephan has appointed special prosecutors to handle cases for organized retail crimes.

“Organized retail theft cases are very hard to put together and to prosecute, these thieves come in, they’re masked up, they are gloved up, and they even conceal their license plates in order to really discover their identity,” Stephan said. “It takes an organized team who knows what they are doing, working hand-in-hand with law enforcement and with the security at the different businesses.” 

During Stephan’s tour and meeting of the store Monday, ULTA employees showed her how they are attempting to stop thefts, including not stocking as many fragrances, and putting many of them behind a glass case that can only be opened by a key.

Stephan talked with two of the store’s managers, who said a majority of the store employees are female, and fearful about the attacks, which are getting more and more aggressive.

“You can steal every day of the week for under $950 and that’s a misdemeanor, even if that’s what you do for a living, is steal other people’s livelihoods,” Stephan said.

She said her team of deputy district attorney’s assigned to prosecute organized retail crime thefts have been able to prosecute the crimes at an organized crime level, which institutes a felony. They’ve been able to use cell phone evidence to track the crime ring.

“In a one-year period, the DA filed criminal cases involving organized retail theft against 77 defendants,” the DA’s office said in the news release.

“The state of California has gone up in homelessness and in this rampant theft as one indication of it, since the passage of the law that allows repeat offenders to still have a misdemeanor, we believe that people should get a first chance and a second chance to make a mistake and be able to regain their life, but when it is their career, their livelihood to destroy other peoples livelihoods, then it needs to have escalating consequences, and so proposition 47 was for example a good idea, but it didn’t put a limit.”

Stephan said there is a better option than Proposition 47.

“We are proposing that on the third time that there should be some better consequence,” she added.

The DA’s office is not the only one working on cracking down on organized retail theft. In September, California Highway Patrol and other authorities went to three shopping centers in San Diego that are often targeted. Some officials went undercover and worked with retail stores to arrest 27 people as they were in the act of shoplifting.

“This is a syndicate that is organized, that is essentially converted from selling drugs to this, which they consider to be an easier market, which is to rip off our stores,” Stephan said. “This escalated violence, when  you let things go then it leads to higher and higher level of criminality, and we’re not going to allow that in San Diego.”