ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Authorities have released surveillance images in the hopes of identifying several people wanted in connection with a pair of recent shoplifting cases at the St. Augustine Outlet Mall.
In the first case, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office posted a series of images on its Facebook page, saying deputies are looking for two men and two women suspected of stealing baby clothes from an unnamed store on Tuesday.
The group got spooked and dropped most of the merchandise and a phone on their way out, deputies said. Investigators believe the suspects, described as Hispanic, may not be from the area because the phone had a Tennessee area code.
According to the Sheriff's Office, the second case was reported the same day at the Ralph Lauren Polo store, where a man is suspected of stuffing numerous items into a large orange bag and then leaving the store without paying for them.
Sheriff's Office spokesperson Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan said shoplifters have been known to travel great lengths for a heist. Many of the cases, he said, tend to be highly-coordinated operations.
"Some of these groups, this is what they do for a living," he said. "They are professional shoplifters and many of them travel in groups looking for specified products that they have either a black market entity that's willing to purchase it online, or they're stealing it for their own personal gain."
The outlet mall, owned by Simon Property Group, has on-site security in place. But it's up to each store to decide on its own security measures, which determines how security officers handle shoplifters. In Florida, many loss prevention officers have the authority to detain suspected shoplifters.
News4Jax reached out to Simon Property Group for comment, and this story will be updated once the company's response is received. Employees at individual stores said they cannot comment while the cases are under investigation.
"What we see at the outlet centers is a more complex set of situations," said Mulligan. "One, they are a targeted entity because they are close to the interstate. And because they have a high volume of foot and vehicle traffic and it's easy for individuals to go in and out of the stores."
Anyone with information about the identities or whereabouts of the pictured suspects is asked to contact the Sheriff's Office's non-emergency line: (904) 824-8304.