Charges: Member of Romanian crime group stole over $6K from Twin Cities area stores

Prosecutors have charged an alleged member of a Romanian organized crime group with stealing more than $6,000 from several Twin Cities area stores over the past several months.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office says the charges come amid a lengthy investigation involving the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Fraud Bureau.

Charges filed against 24-year-old Baronita Rostas on Tuesday allege she tricked cashiers at several retail stores across the metro through a “sleight of hand” or “quick change” scheme, stealing at least $6,280 since March 14.

“This is a complex case, involving several agencies and a significant amount of work,” Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said in a statement. “This sort of high-volume, organized fraud has a significant impact on businesses and their employees, and ultimately impacts all of us through higher prices. We take this crime seriously and will aggressively prosecute those responsible.”

The investigation started in June after crime investigators with TJX Companies — which operates T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, Sierra and several other retail stores around the country — reported several people involved in the “quick change” scheme.

Court documents state the perpetrators, including Rostas, were identified as members of a Romanian organized crime group. They also claim that she’s traveled around the country and used the scheme with others in the group for several years in other stores.

According to charging documents, the scheme involves bringing merchandise to a register that has a cashier they deem as vulnerable. Then, they show multiple stacks of $100 in $20 bills but retrieve them to “recount” the money. During that time, they strategically put a finger in the stack of cash and ask the cashier for the total amount due for the transaction.

When the cashier looks at the screen, the perpetrators quickly remove a portion of the money. They then provide the cashier with the rest of their cash, get the proper amount of change and then return the merchandise for full value at another store.

A criminal complaint states that the scheme caused a total loss of $1,000 at a Marshalls in Eagan, $900 at a Marshalls in Roseville, over $1,800 in losses at the Albertville Old Navy, Maple Grove Athleta and St. Louis Park Old Navy stores, and an $1,800 in loss at a Richfield Sierra store. Additionally, Rostas was seen using the scheme in North Carolina and Iowa, and prosecutors say the states of Oregon, Ohio and Pennsylvania have five active fraud, theft and larceny warrants for her arrest.

She’s scheduled to make her first court appearance Wednesday afternoon for a theft by swindle charge. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years behind bars.