A group of thieves distracted employees at four grocery stores over the weekend and stole bags of cash, including $10,000 from one business, police said.
Three females and a male would enter a store and pretend to buy items while distracting employees to another part of the business, security video shows. One of them would then steal from behind the counter or an office, the Des Moines Register reports.
They robbed La Cruz 3 and El Palomino on East 14th Street and La Favorita on East Grand Avenue on Saturday. Saigon Market on Euclid Avenue was robbed Sunday morning, according to police reports.
“They seem to be targeting mom-and-pop type places. Businesses like QuikTrip and Kum & Go have rules about dropping off cash once they get to a certain amount,” said Sgt. Jason Halifax of Des Moines Police Department. “It may suggest the suspects had prior knowledge of how the businesses handle cash.”
The group first robbed El Palomino, in the 3100 block of East 14th Street, at about 7:35 p.m. Four suspects entered the store, started looking around and inquiring about items for sale, according to a police report. One suspect went behind the cashier counter and started browsing. The three other suspects stood in front of the counter asking questions.
The suspect behind the counter joined the group and tried to purchase a can of breadcrumbs but her card was declined.
Employees said $300 in cash was missing from a box inside an unlocked filing cabinet.
About 40 minutes later, the group robbed La Favorita in the 1700 block of East Grand Avenue.
Security camera footage at La Favorita caught the scheme. Two individuals enter the store, their faces uncovered, and seem to ask the woman behind the counter for help at the back of the store. In the meantime, another thief scurries to a closet behind the counter and exits with a green bag of cash and checks.
The crook hides the bag among some merchandise and another thief grabs it again before the group leaves.
Managers at La Favorita told police that the suspects left the store in a four-door Chrysler vehicle after the theft around 8:08 p.m. It’s unclear how much cash was stolen.
At 8:30 p.m., the suspects robbed La Cruz 3 in the 3900 block of East 14th Street. The group got away with $10,000, employees said. Police asked why so much cash was on hand and the business owner said they do money orders to four different countries and Saturday is the busiest day.
Two of the criminals brought an air freshener and aluminum foil to the counter as if to buy it. Another bid the employee to look at a blanket but then put it back without purchasing it.
After the suspects left, the owner went behind the counter and saw the lock box was open and money was missing.
Finally, employees at Saigon Market, in the 2500 block of Euclid Avenue, reported a theft on Sunday at about 11:40 a.m. Police believe the same four subjects entered the business, repeating their scheme.
The report states that security camera video captured one female acting as the “lookout” while the others distract employees to the opposite side of the store, according to a police report.
The employee later found that someone had pried open the locked office door and rummaged through the room. Nothing appeared to be missing, however.
Police have not yet identified the suspects.