Four accused of roles in theft ring targeting high-end purses in East Hampton
A Suffolk grand jury indicted four people accused of being members of an organized theft team that swiped 48 high-end purses and pocketbooks, worth nearly $100,000, from luxury retailer Balenciaga in East Hampton earlier this month before taking police on a high-speed pursuit across the East End, prosecutors said.
The suspects were arraigned in Riverhead Criminal Court and charged in connection with the brazen theft, which was caught on surveillance camera. A fifth female suspect remains at large.
"The message is simple: don't steal other people's property," said Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney at a news conference in Riverhead. "If you do and enter Suffolk County as part of an organized retail theft ring, and you endanger people in the process, you're going to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
The grand jury charged Jamal Johns, 25; Baseemah Davis, 34; Ali Harris, 28; and Wazir Rodgers, 25, all of Newark, with second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal possession of stolen property and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance as authorities discovered 28 methamphetamine pills in their vehicle.
In court Wednesday, Johns and Davis, who were on probation from previous convictions, were held on $75,000 cash or $150,000 bond. Harris, who does not have prior convictions, was released without bail. Rogers did not show up to his arraignment and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Attorneys for the suspects declined or did not respond to requests for comment.
Surveillance video of the March 3 robbery shows an unidentified woman, wearing a pink ski mask, entering the store around 1:30 p.m. talking on her phone and looking at handbags.
The woman asks a clerk if they have shoes in her size. As the employee retrieves the footwear, four masked suspects rush into the store and hurriedly grab bags from the shelves before fleeing in a Dodge Durango, the video shows.
East Hampton Village Police located the Durango but terminated their pursuit when the vehicle wove in and out of traffic at speeds near 100 mph, Tierney said.
A state trooper in West Hampton Beach spotted the Durango on Sunrise Highway and attempted to pull over the vehicle. But the trooper was forced to disengage when the Durango again fled at speeds exceeding 100 mph while veering into oncoming traffic, Tierney said.
When the Durango broke down on the Long Island Expressway in Wading River, the trooper, along with Suffolk Police, K-9 and Aviation units, apprehended the four suspects. The unidentified female fled into a wooded area and avoided arrest.
State Police Superintendent Kevin Bruen said the suspects were taken into custody "without incident, despite their reckless escape attempt."
Police retrieved 34 bags at the scene and two others in the Balenciaga parking lot, valued at nearly $70,000 combined, authorities said. A dozen bags remain unaccounted for.
A Balenciaga employee declined to comment. Balenciaga is a high-end fashion brand based in Paris whose bags can run upward of $30,000.
Authorities believe the crew may be responsible for other thefts in Suffolk and elsewhere and likely planned to sell the bags on the secondary market to individuals who may not know the items were stolen.
"We are seeing an explosion in organized retail theft rings," said Tierney, adding that the suspects likely targeted Balenciaga because they viewed it as a "soft target."
Davis and Harris are due back in court on March 23. Rogers and Johns are due back on March 25.