By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — A pair of women accused of stealing hundreds of movies from Walmart stores across southern Minnesota were apparently working for an organized shoplifting ring with California connections.
Even though the two women were stopped and arrested within two hours after they allegedly stole about $5,000 in merchandise from Mankato’s Walmart on Sept. 26, most of what was taken wasn’t in the car they were in.
An affidavit requesting a search warrant filed in Blue Earth County District Court this week reveals what likely happened to the dozens of movies that were missing: They had been stuffed into Fed Ex packages and sent to addresses in a Los Angeles suburb.
At least three packages were sent to two addresses in Panorama City, Calif., as 59-year-old Noe Baldiva-Corral and 26-year-old Samantha Velez-Diaz were allegedly stealing hundreds of DVDs from Walmart stores in Worthington, Owatonna and Mankato last month, according to criminal complaints charging them with felony theft.
In all, they are suspected of stealing more than $100,000 in merchandise from Walmart stores in Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Walmart security officers in Mankato had received a tip about the two women, and the methods they used to steal DVDs, before they arrived around midnight on a Monday. One of the suspects distracted an employee in the electronics area while the other filled an $80 suitcase, taken from the luggage area, with more than 200 DVDs, the complaints said.
Both women then left the store at the same time. When the woman with the stolen merchandise triggered the sensors at the doors, the other woman stopped and told responding employees it must have been her purchase that triggered the alarm.
Security officers, who had received reports of similar thefts at Owatonna and Worthington the day before, realized what had happened and called Mankato police. Surveillance video was used to identify the car the suspects left in. They were stopped and arrested near New Auburn by a state trooper about two hours later.
Some of the items stolen from Mankato and Owatonna were found in the car. The hundreds of stolen DVDs, totaling a value of about $13,000 from all three southern Minnesota stores, were not in the car.
When the two suspects were interviewed, they told investigators they had stopped at a Fed Ex office in Worthington to ship DVDs from that theft. They also said they had stopped at a Mankato Fed Ex office to ship DVDs stolen from the Owatonna and Mankato stores. The two Panorama City addresses that the three boxes were shipped to are listed as small trucking companies.
An investigator contacted a Fed Ex representative and asked to have the stolen merchandise shipped back to Mankato. The three boxes were returned Oct. 10 and searched on Oct. 13, according to the search warrant.
Hundreds of Blue Ray DVDs were found, most of them popular children, family and adult movies. For some reason one of the boxes included five rolls of toilet paper and one box of facial tissue. Another box included one roll of General Pacific Envision brand two-ply white bath tissue, the search warrant said.