CLERMONT, Fla. - Police say a ring of thieves is targeting T.J. Maxx stores in Central Florida, stealing dozens of expensive purses.
The latest incident happened on March 7th at a T.J. Maxx store in Clermont on U.S. Highway 27.
Clermont police say five thieves were caught on surveillance video pulling off a bold robbery right in the middle of the day when the store was full of shoppers.
On surveillance video from the Clermont store, three men and two women are spotted walking out of the store around 2:50 p.m. with about 24 pricey purses.
According to a Clermont Police report, the store manager, Norberto Ortiz-Reyes, told detectives the company has been having problems with a group of thieves since February. At least nine stores on the west coast of Florida from Zephyrhills to Venice have been hit, possibly by the same group.
Ortiz-Reyes told police the group targets high-end bags, especially Michael Kors purses. A memo that the manager received from the company illustrated that the group often strikes Monday through Saturday between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. with an emphasis on 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"To think that that would be happening anywhere is disgusting," said T.J. Maxx customer Pam Rumph. "It's scary. It makes me want to hang on to my bag, because I have a tendency to leave it in the cart but I watch it like a hawk, but still."
The Clermont heist happened in a matter of minutes. On the video, four of the suspects are seen walking in first. They make a beeline for the hand bags. They split up and two of the men immediately load up by putting purses around their arms.
Police say the group's fifth accomplice comes in later and looks over more bags until the group reconvenes, but they're not done just yet.
When the crooks are finally ready to leave, each walks out with several purses in hand. The store manager estimated they stole about $3,000 worth of merchandise.
"Oh my god, I've never even heard of this," said Amanda Wiebe, who shops at the T.J. Maxx store several times a week.
"Well it doesn't surprise me that people are stealing, but it surprises me that it's that many at a time," said Wiebe. "I feel like it makes our prices go up. It's just rude."
The manager tried to run after the group, but they jumped into a gray Acura and took off heading toward Highway 27.
The manager also told police the vehicle's license plate had a cover on it that made it impossible to read the plate.
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