The young women walked so quickly, grabbed items from the shelves so confidently, that employees at the Glenarden J.C. Penney might have thought they were out shopping for Mother’s Day.
Except this was their second trip to the store that day. And Mom probably did not ask for $20,000 in perfume and makeup.
The women, police said at a news conference Friday, were professional shoplifters — bit players in an organized ring of cosmetically-inclined thieves. Three and four times a day, police said, Darquesha Wilkinson, 19, and Latasha Mungo, 24, both of the District, would walk into department stores across the region, swipe high-end perfume, lotions and makeup, then sell them on the streets at a discount, often out of the trunks of their cars. And until Tuesday — when a J.C. Penney loss-prevention employee recognized the pair as suspects in previous shoplifting incidents — they hadn’t been charged there, blending in with other shoppers because they were charming and well-dressed, police said.
“That’s what they do. This is their job,” said Sgt. Aubrey Thompson, who heads the Prince George’s County Police’s Organized Retail Crime Unit. “It only takes them but 30 seconds.”
Investigators seized nearly $20,000 in perfume, makeup and other beauty products when they arrested the women Tuesday at the J.C. Penney at Woodmore Towne Centre, Thompson said. Wilkinson and Mungo were carrying about a third of the merchandise in large canvas shopping bags filled “to the brim” and the rest was in their car, Thompson said.
The total, Thompson said, represented about one day’s haul. Both women were charged with theft over $1,000 and theft scheme, he said.
The alleged thieves preferred big brand names, police said. Victoria’s Secret, Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana perfumes — sold normally at prices ranging from $25 to nearly $80 a bottle — were among those displayed at the news conference Friday. Investigators suspect that the women sometimes took orders from smaller beauty salons — which wanted to get the products in bulk at discounted rates — and are probing others’ involvement in the ring, Thompson said.
“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” Thompson said of Wilkinson’s and Mungo’s arrests.
Reached by phone Friday, Wilkinson said the charges against her are “not true” but would not elaborate. Efforts to reach Mungo late Friday afternoon were unsuccessful. A family member said he was unaware of the charges and referred a reporter to Mungo.
Since their arrests, the women have been released on bond, online court records show.
Thompson said that the women were polite and well-dressed, which investigators believe helped them avoid detection by store employees during such brazen shoplifting runs.
“They’re very charming ladies,” Thompson said. “If I worked in a store as a manager, I wouldn’t have any reason to suspect them.”