A new scam for stealing high-priced Lego sets from big box retailers may be spreading.
Prosecutors announced Wednesday that a San Francisco man was charged with changing bar codes on pricey Star Wars Lego kits in order to buy them at a fraction of their true cost at Peninsula Target stores. The news comes days after a Silicon Valley executive at global software giant SAP was accused of doing the same thing in the South Bay.
Authorities said there is no evidence linking the South Bay and Peninsula cases but agreed the similarities are striking. A Target spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the bar code thefts are a growing trend, or what they're doing about it.
"Our guy was really a one-man operation," said Santa Clara County supervising deputy district attorney Cindy Hendrickson. "There might very well be a ring, but I don't think it includes (him)."
In the Peninsula case, Donald Michael Morales, 44, faces 15 felony charges in an alleged bar code-changing spree that came to an end April 14 at a Redwood City Target, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
Morales was supposed to be arraigned in San Mateo County Superior Court on Wednesday morning, but he didn't show up, and authorities will issue a warrant for his arrest, Wagstaffe said.
In all but one of the 14 thefts, which happened at Target stores in San Mateo, Daly City, San Bruno and Redwood City, Morales allegedly replaced the approximately $140 price tags on Star Wars Millennium Falcon kits with ones for about $16, said Wagstaffe. Morales, who had set up a PayPal account for his enterprise, then allegedly sold the items on eBay at their original price.
He faces a count of commercial burglary for each alleged theft, as well as one charge of grand theft, Wagstaffe said.
Morales declined to comment Wednesday. But Morales allegedly told police he was unemployed and had turned to crime after falling on hard times.
Authorities said that, just as in the South Bay case, where Thomas Langenbach of San Carlos allegedly gave himself a discount at Mountain View Target stores, Morales was caught by a sharp store worker. The employee ringing him up realized the kits sold for a lot more than $15.99, said Wagstaffe.
At the time Morales was busted, police didn't realize there might be other cases, so he was given a misdemeanor citation with a court date. A Redwood City detective who had heard about similar crimes cracked the case by calling around to other police departments, officials said. Store surveillance footage then allegedly helped tie Morales to the other cases.