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2 Arrested in Probe of Cut-Rate Store

Police say its high-end items, sold at heavy discounts, were stolen.

March 06, 2003|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

The prices at Patty's Fashions in Van Nuys were a little hard to beat for this season's high-end goods: a $1,175 Hermes coat might go for $200, a $600 Ralph Lauren leather skirt for $60, a $1,500 Prada purse for a few hundred.

Clothing from Abercrombie and Fitch, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Anne Klein, Polo and Victoria's Secret also was available, even though the store is in a working-class neighborhood in the 14800 block of Burbank Boulevard and had no sign outside.

"Some of these customers knew, or should have known," the stuff was stolen, said Los Angeles Police Det. Gilbert Escontrias.

Police on Wednesday arrested the owners -- Patricia Pineda, 44, and Gabriel Ibaceta, 57 -- on suspicion of receiving stolen property. They also seized about $2.5 million worth of goods at the store, the couple's home, and a storage locker.

The arrests were the result of a three-month undercover operation, police said. Patty's got much of its merchandise from dozens, if not hundreds, of street-level thieves, most of them from South American countries, investigators said. The shoplifters typically used specially lined shopping bags so that store sensors wouldn't go off.

"It's a bunch of stuff you and I can't afford," Det. Emma Ramirez said. But customers, Escontrias said, "just don't care" if the price is suspicious. "I'm constantly amazed at what people will buy if they think they're getting a deal."

Some of the goods arrived via FedEx or United Parcel Service from out of state, police said.

The store also carried furniture, such as electric recliners, and detectives are investigating whether it was stolen by cargo thieves.

Pineda and Ibaceta were arrested in 1999 for receiving and selling stolen property out of Patty's Fashions, then in West Hills. They received probation and were fined.

The couple's bail has been set at $2 million apiece, and they're scheduled to be arraigned Friday. Police said they could face up to three years in prison.

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