New charges filed in Hennepin County District Court say a Romanian organized crime group targeted stores across the Twin Cities metro for months, and participants are part of a group known to operate across the country.
Two people have been charged in the last week in relation to the crimes which the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (HCAO) claims has cost local retailers over $6,200 since March in just one of the cases.
Charged are Baronita Rostas, 23, and Suraj Tomita (aka Suraj Rostas), 25, each with one felony count of theft by swindle. The complaint against Rostas lists her address as unknown; the complaint against Tomita lists an address of Jamaica, NY.
Rostas was arrested by St. Louis Park police on July 28, and Tomita was arrested by Edina police on Aug. 1.
Their crimes involve a “sleight of hand” quick change scheme that takes place during cash exchanges at point-of-sale. Charges say the suspects select cashiers they deem to be “vulnerable,” present the selected merchandise for purchase, and begin to converse with the cashier. Stacks of cash are presented for high-dollar purchases. After the cashier counts the money, the suspect maintains eye contact and conversation with the cashier while taking back the cash and asking the cashier to verify the amount of the sale. While the cashier is distracted looking back at the register screen, the suspects use sleight of hand to remove a portion of the cash and conceal it before handing back the remainder to the cashier. The suspect then leaves the store with the merchandise and the concealed cash. The merchandise is then presented for return for a full refund at another store location.
“This is a complex case, involving several agencies and a significant amount of work,” Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said. “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.”
Information included in a press release by the HCAO stated:
“In June 2023, agents with the Minnesota Department of Commerce Fraud Bureau began investigating members of a Romanian organized crime group who are involved in ‘quick change’ or ‘sleight of hand’ distraction thefts occurring at retail stores all around the United States. The investigation began after a report from crime investigators with TJX Companies. TJX investigators identified several members of the Romanian organized crime group involved in these schemes, including Rostas. The investigation showed that Rostas has traveled around the country and successfully engaged in this retail fraud scheme for several years, along with other members of the Romanian organized crime group.
Information from TJX investigators and an international criminal analyst who has been documenting the Romanian criminal organization for several years shows that Rostas has engaged in the quick change scheme around the United States since at least 2018. The investigation revealed Rostas used this scheme at stores, at a minimum, in Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington, and Dakota counties, in addition to stores in North Carolina and Iowa.”
The complaint against Rostas states that investigators have documentation and surveillance video of some of her transactions dating back to March 14 and through July 27 in which the thefts totaled $6,280 spanning the cities of Richfield, Eagan, Roseville, Albertville, Maple Grove, and St. Louis Park. Charges also state that Rostas engaged in the scheme at retailers in Iowa and North Carolina during the time frame.
Information from the HCAO said that an investigation prior to Rostas’ court appearance last week showed she has five active warrants from the states of Oregon, Ohio, and Pennsylvania for fraud, theft, and larceny.
Tomita was arrested after allegedly pulling the scheme at the Apple Store at Southdale Mall during which he absconded with $1,900 and merchandise from a sale that totaled $3,600.
Rostas remains in custody at Hennepin County Jail on $100,000 bail, and the complaint states that she’s a transient Romanian national and presents a significant flight risk. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 29.
Court records indicate that Tomita posted $25,000 cash bail and was released from custody on Friday. The jail record indicated Tomita was wanted on an out-of-state warrant. It’s unclear if he was released to another authority. Tomita is scheduled to make a court appearance in Hennepin County on Wednesday.
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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.