BURLINGAME — The state’s top law-enforcement official announced Friday that the final and primary defendant in a massive scheme to steal over-the-counter drugs in San Mateo County — and sell them overseas — had been sentenced, fully breaking up what authorities say is one of the largest organized retail theft rings in California history.
State Attorney General Rob Bonta made the announcement in front of a CVS Pharmacy in Burlingame, as the Bay Area and Southern California were dealing with an ongoing wave of group thefts, including one that involved close to 90 people storming a Walnut Creek Nordstrom and fleeing with merchandise in mid-November.
In the San Mateo County theft ring, which a criminal complaint states took place between August 2019 and September 2020, five people were charged with offenses spanning conspiracy, organized retail theft, possession stolen property, and charging enhancements for aggravated white-collar crime.
Bonta said when the San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies and state Department of Justice agents searched a Concord warehouse in connection with the investigation, they seized about $8 million in stolen merchandise — primarily pharmaceuticals and electronics — that had been taken from stores including CVS, Target, and Walgreens. Authorities also seized more than $1.8 million from bank accounts linked to the scheme.
“Organized retail theft is illegal, let’s be absolutely clear about that. It is serious, and there are, as we see today, serious consequences,” Bonta said. “The lead defendant organized what we believe is one of the largest retail theft rings to have ever been busted in state history.”
The lead defendant was Danny Louis Drago, a Concord resident who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit organized retail theft, receiving stolen property, money laundering, and a aggravated white-collar crime allegation. For Drago, his plea agreement for a six-year prison sentence spares him from the 58 additional money laundering charges initially filed against him.
Between now and when arrests were made in September 2020, four other people linked to the theft plot have pleaded guilty to felony charges and have been sentenced. Concord resident Michelle Renee Fowler pleaded to organized retail theft, receiving stolen property, and an aggravated white-collar allegation. Her sentence to three years in state prison was suspended pending her completion of just under a year in jail and two years of probation.
Edgar Geovany Robles Morales and Isis Vasquez Villanueva, a married couple from San Francisco, pleaded to conspiracy to commit organized retail theft and were sentenced to probation and about a year of electronic monitoring with the option to offset it through a work program. Jose Villatoro pleaded to receiving stolen property and was sentenced to probation and 30 days in jail.
The investigation began in April 2020 and included the state DOJ, the San Mateo County sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices, and the California Highway Patrol. Authorities say the Drago and his co-conspirators moved stolen goods into the warehouse and arranged for the material to be shipped to other countries, after which they would launder the money back stateside through an array of bank accounts.
Sheriff Carlos Bolanos said the investigation “involved thefts that were occurring throughout San Mateo County” that “spanned from retail thefts, commercial burglaries, residential burglaries and auto burglaries.” Besides the warehouse, he said search warrants were served at several homes and about a dozen storage units.
Bonta said the sentences secured from the investigation should be taken as a pledge that current wave of retail thefts reported in the region will receive similar attention from state and local law enforcement.
“Today’s announcement should serve as a warning shot to anyone thinking about participating in organized retail theft,” he said. “You will be held accountable. You will face consequences.”
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