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State prosecutors file charges against 17 people in Apple store thefts

State prosecutors announced felony charges Thursday against 17 people in connection with a series of coordinated heists that involved the theft of more than $1 million in iPhones and other electronic devices from Apple stores across the state, including two robberies at the Santa Rosa Plaza outlet in the past two months.

The investigation, which involved 22 law enforcement agencies, has so far resulted in eight arrests and warrants issued for nine other suspects who remain at large.

Surveillance videos show groups of hooded suspects running into stores and snatching Apple devices from display cases at stores in 19 different counties, from the north in Butte down south to San Diego. Two such thefts took place at the Santa Rosa Plaza location, on Aug. 29, when police said suspects made off with more than $35,000 in merchandise, and a second heist last Sunday.

On Sunday, Santa Rosa police arrested one of the suspects, 19-year-old Kennith Martin Jr., of Oakland. He is being held in the Sonoma County Jail on a no-bail warrant out of Fresno County, according to a Sonoma County sheriff's spokesman. He is scheduled to appear in court next week.

Members of the group that hit the Santa Rosa Apple store earlier this month are believed to be the same that struck in August, said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Marcus Sprague. “We are still working on identifying which individuals of the crew committed each theft,” he said.

It remains unclear, he added, if the Apple store incidents are tied to two thefts on Aug. 20 at T-Mobile stores in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, where three suspects took off with $10,000 in merchandise. Petaluma police arrested two suspects, both from Oakland, while a third got away.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced seven other adults were arrested on Sept. 25 and booked into the Alameda County Jail on charges of conspiracy to commit grand theft as part of the Apple thefts investigation. A spokeswoman for the California Department of Justice said she could not disclose the names of the suspects, citing an ongoing investigation.

A separate criminal complaint filed in Fresno County lists charges against Martin, in addition to suspects Leo David Smith III, Leo David Smith IV, Yoshua Neshon Barker and Armon Darzell James. The Sacramento Bee previously reported Roseville police arrested suspects Juwan Potter, 20, Melvin Barlow, 21, and Quincy Carter Jr., 21, following a high-speed highway chase and booked them into the South Placer County Jail on Sept. 12 for thefts at the Apple store in Roseville's Westfield Galleria mall.

“Organized retail thefts cost California business owners millions and expose them to copycat criminals. Ultimately, consumers pay the cost of this merchandise hijacking,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will continue our work with local law enforcement authorities to extinguish this mob mentality and prosecute these criminals to hold them accountable.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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