Southern California duo charged with stealing over $800,000 worth of equipment from home improvement stores

A Southern California duo was accused of stealing more than $800,000 worth of pricy tools from home improvement stores.

The suspects were identified as Jalen Amir Thomas, 27, from Santa Monica, and Armia Ta’Jae Timmons, 25, from Los Angeles, by the US Attorney’s Office.

Authorities said the duo “victimized 190 stores in 23 states with nearly 500 equipment thefts.”

Both suspects were charged with an 11-count indictment including charges of conspiracy and ten counts of wire fraud related to an organized retail theft scheme.

Officials said the pair’s scheme involved renting high-value construction equipment and instead of returning them, they sold the stolen items through websites such as Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp.

The pair traveled through 23 different states and hit nearly 200 stores, causing more than $800,000 in losses, according to court documents.

As early as March 2022, Thomas led a group of thieves who stopped at home improvement stores to rent two types of equipment — jumping jack tampers and vibratory plate compactors, authorities said. Both items are valued between $1,500 to $2,000 each.

The group allegedly used debit cards to pay a small rental deposit on the equipment while providing fake identities and telephone numbers. They transported the stolen equipment in vans and rental trucks and attempted to sell the items “at a steep discount on various online marketplaces.”

In total, around 480 pieces of equipment were stolen using this method, officials said. When a retailer tried to charge the debit accounts for the unreturned equipment or late fees, they discovered there were insufficient funds.

“Organized retail theft has exploded across the country, due in large part to the growth of an online resale marketplace,” said US Attorney Nick Brown.

If convicted, the conspiracy count and the wire fraud counts are each punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, authorities said.

“As the US retail sector faces increasing challenges such as layoffs and store closings, it becomes more difficult for stores to absorb the impact of retail fraud, which amounts to billions of dollars in losses,” said SAC Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigation operations in the Pacific Northwest.

The suspects appeared in US District Court in the Central District of California earlier this week. Prosecutors are asking they remain detained and transported to the Western District of Washington for arrangement.