Federal investigators say they've broken up an elaborate theft ring that preyed on grocery shoppers in Washington and several other states.
According to court documents, eight people are now facing charges in connection to a series of thefts that took place between July of 2014 and November of 2015.
Detectives say the suspects traveled across the country, often using aliases, to steal wallets from people while they were shopping at grocery stores.
The suspects allegedly used debit cards, credit cards, and personal checks found inside the stolen wallets to make unauthorized withdrawals from the victims' bank accounts.
Investigators say the thefts resulted in $230,000 lost by victims in Washington alone. Also, they say more than $500,000 was lost by victims in Minnesota, Oregon, California, Michigan, Texas, New Jersey, Ohio, and Utah.
In King County, court documents list victims in Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland, Issaquah, Tacoma, Seattle, Woodinville, Mercer Island, and Tumwater.
They were targeted while shopping at various stores including Trader Joe's, Metropolitan Market, Safeway, PCC Natural Markets, Haggen Food Grocery Store, QFC, Fred Meyer, and Whole Foods.
"The amount of money that they've taken, it's mind blowing. It's kinda like a movie, it seems a little unreal to me still," said Katie Wallace.
Wallace became a victim in November of 2015. She was shopping at the Metropolitan Market on North Proctor Street in Tacoma when she was targeted. Surveillance cameras inside the store caught the suspects as they closed in on her shopping cart.
"It just, it happened like that," she said. "I didn't even let go of my cart. My hands were on my cart the whole time. I looked away for literally two seconds to grab something and turn around. And by the time I went up front to pay, I realized my wallet was gone."
Images from the surveillance cameras show Wallace at the very bottom of the screen. Her purse, with her wallet inside, was on the shopping cart directly in front of her.
Then, the cameras show a man and woman move in behind her. The man uses a bag to hide his hand as he digs into her purse and grabs her wallet. Police believe the man and woman were working together. The woman appears to stand very close to Wallace, perhaps to block the view of other shoppers.
Within 30 minutes of taking her wallet, Wallace says the thieves had withdrawn $7,000 from her bank accounts.
KING 5 first interviewed Wallace in 2015, when the theft took place. She says her bank covered the money that was lost, but she always hoped the police would find the people responsible.
Then this week, Wallace got her wish. A letter from the U.S. Department of Justice arrived at her home, letting her know that charges were filed.
"To finally get a letter from the Department of Justice, saying that the people have been caught, it was pretty unbelievable," said Ed Wallace, Katie's husband. "We were just relieved."
The suspects are due in federal court in Seattle on Tuesday afternoon for a detention hearing. They're also accused of laundering the stolen money by buying and selling homes in California.
Wallace says the experience taught her to be more proactive in protecting herself and her belongings while in public.
"I'm just more cautious and think a little differently when I go out," she said. "And I guess I'm grateful for that."
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