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Feds Charge 2 Alleged Shoplifters Who Coughed, Claimed 'We Have COVID' At San Francisco Walgreens

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Two women have been charged in federal court with stealing merchandise from a San Francisco Walgreens while coughing loudly and claiming that they were infected with coronavirus.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California unsealed the charges Friday against Carmelita Barela, 36, and Rosetta Shabazz, 32, both of San Francisco.

According to the complaint, on April 6 Barela and Shabazz entered the Walgreens near San Francisco's Civic Center with empty bags and without wearing masks. After the store manager offered assistance, Shabazz allegedly began to cough without covering her mouth and was asked by the manager to leave the store if she was sick, the complaint said.

Both defendants Shabazz and Barela then began coughing out loud while placing merchandise into their bags. The manager told the defendants to leave the store, to which they responded by saying, We have COVID," according to the complaint. Both women continued to cough audibly and eventually left the store without paying for the merchandise in their bags.

"It is an unfortunate reality that there will be those in our community who try to take advantage of the current pandemic to prey on people's fear of contracting COVID-19," said U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson in a press statement. "While many in our community can remain safe by sheltering in place, store managers and clerks are putting themselves out into the world for our benefit. They don't deserve to be threatened and robbed. Everyone suffers from a crime like this."

"In a time when our communities have come together to be responsible and stay safe, the FBI will simply not tolerate the criminal actions of the few individuals who use fear and intimidation to endanger others," said FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. "We must protect the front-line service workers who are providing the public with the critical supplies we all need."

Both Shabazz and Barela were arrested on April 23 and charged with robbery affecting interstate commerce. Shabazz made her initial appearance in federal court Friday morning and was released to home confinement, pending her next court date scheduled for April 28. Barela is scheduled for her initial court appearance on April 27.

If convicted, each face a maximum sentence of 20 years of prison and a $250,000 fine.

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