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SF Serial Shoplifter Appears In Court; DA Boudin Vows To Crack Down On Organized Retail Thefts

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/BCN) -- A 40-year-old man who was arrested in connection with a string of pharmacy retail thefts in recent days in San Francisco's Lower Haight and Mission districts appeared in court on Wednesday.

Jean Lugo Romero is facing 15 charges including grand theft in connection with an incident at a San Francisco Walgreens caught on video, that went viral- showing a man walking out with almost $1000 dollars worth of merchandise.

San Francisco police officers said they recognized Romero as he entered a drug store in the 400 block of Haight Street at 8:34 a.m., last Saturday.

When the officers entered the shop, Lugo-Romero was allegedly clearing shelves of cosmetics into a duffel bag. Jean Lugo-Romero was taken into custody without incident. Inside the bag, officers found early $1,000 in stolen merchandise.

It is not clear if Lugo-Romero was a operating alone, but San Francisco District Attorney's office says it's trying to crackdown on organized retail crime. Critics say it's not enough.

Stores like CVS and Walgreens have been major targets. But smaller shop owners say they are also facing the same dilemma, confronted by these kinds of criminals, almost everyday.

"On the streets they know there's nothing that can happen to them," said store owner Sammy Suleiman.

Suleiman's father opened up a specialty store in the Polk Gulch more than 40 years ago, giving his family a chance to make it in this country.

But he believes the system in place now to deter thieves, is broken.

"I can rely on law enforcement if they have the right tools in place," said Suleiman.

Businesses say rampant and brazen thefts, many tied to larger criminal fencing operations, are escalating at a rate they've never seen before.

People walking out of big and small stores, with whatever they want.

"That Walgreens got marked as a store where you can just go and steal stuff," said Suleiman.

Critics of District Attorney Chesa Boudin say non-violent crimes aren't being prosecuted enough.

"He's only doing it for high profile cases ones that he has enough evidence for but you see city hall leaders and Mayor Breed who are starting to come down on him to perform," said Riche Greenberg, who's leading an effort to recall Boudin.

Companies like ALTO, help retailers gather evidence and file police reports. Boudin says prosecutions and partnerships with loss prevention companies are ways to "dismantle criminal networks that make these crimes profitable."

"The DA's office, the police and broader criminal justice system has to hold these folks accountable, has to monitor them effectively, and in some cases escalate the consequences," said San Francisco supervisor Matt Haney.

But until store owners like Sammy Suleiman begin to see a difference on the streets, they know they're on their own.

Meanwhile, Lugo-Romero was being held on attempted grand theft, entering a business with the intent to commit theft, possession of drug paraphernalia counts and for an outstanding warrant for his arrest for failing to appear in court on a prior theft case.

Investigators believe Lugo-Romero -- whom they described as prolific -- committed five other thefts since May 29, four of them in the 300 block of Gough Street, including two robberies and two burglaries.

The fifth occurred in the same 400 block of Haight Street just two days before Saturday's arrest.

In surveillance camera footage from one of the incidents, police said, Lugo-Romero placed stolen merchandise into a bag and rode a bicycle out of the store to make his getaway.

Kenny Choi contributed to this article.

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