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Police: Couple stole wallets `almost daily'

March 24, 2007|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A husband and wife living in a San Diego County hotel have been arrested on suspicion of committing a string of wallet and purse snatchings believed to have netted at least $1 million in fraudulent credit card purchases since 1994.

Robin Marc Smith, 49, and Dorothy Ann Smith, 57, were arrested about 2 p.m. Thursday after undercover police officers watched them steal a woman's wallet from a purse at a Mission Viejo business, officials said.

The couple was then tracked to a retail outlet in Carlsbad where they made a purchase using a credit card from the wallet, Lt. Henry Boggs, a spokesman for the Irvine Police Department, said Friday.

"We believe they've been doing this almost on a daily basis," Boggs said.

Authorities became aware of the couple last month, he said.

Investigators began noticing a pattern of wallet and purse snatchings, mostly in south Orange County, associated with fraudulent purchases using the stolen credit cards shortly afterward, often in Carlsbad.

Detectives obtained security videotapes that they used to track down the couple.

"We just started looking," Boggs said. "We sent out teams of detectives to areas where these people were known to commit thefts, conducted surveillance and eventually we saw them. They were going into a business, where they did commit a crime," Boggs said.

The couple's usual method, he said, was for Robin Smith to enter a commercial office building using a ruse such as carrying a clipboard and pretending to be checking lighting or air conditioning.

Without being observed, Boggs said, he would steal wallets or purses left on desks, in suit pockets or next to briefcases. Then, using stolen credit cards, the couple would make purchases at retail outlets, mostly of such items as flat-screen television sets, PlayStations, iPods or golf clubs.

"We're continuing the investigation to determine what their sources for selling these things were," Boggs said. Investigators, Boggs said, have documented about 50 cases thought to be associated with the pair, some dating back 13 years, but suspect that there may be many more.

Both Smiths are being held at Orange County Jail on multiple counts of burglary, criminal conspiracy and credit card fraud. Dorothy Smith's bail is set at $20,000, Boggs said, while Robin Smith is being held without bail.

david.haldane@latimes.com

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