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News / Northwest

WA man stole $44K in products from Safeway stores in four counties, state AG alleges

By Peter Talbot, The News Tribune
Published: June 13, 2024, 7:41am

TACOMA — A 56-year-old Bremerton man accused of stealing more than $44,000 in merchandise from Safeway stores in nearly two dozen thefts has been charged by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office with organized retail theft.

Between late July 2023 and January this year, Rogelle Muhammed Harris allegedly stole health and beauty products from 13 different stores in Pierce, Thurston, Kitsap and King counties to resell them.

The Attorney General’s Office charged Harris on June 7 in Thurston County Superior Court with first-degree organized retail theft, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The prosecution is the third to come out of the office’s task force focused on organized retail crimes, which often span multiple cities and counties.

Harris is set to be arraigned June 25. He does not appear to be in custody in Thurston or Pierce counties, according to jail records. An attorney for the defendant was not listed in Thurston County court records.

Albertsons Companies, which owns Safeway, is a participant in the task force, and, according to charging documents, it indicated that Harris had committed more than 45 thefts with losses totaling more than $76,606.80. Harris was reportedly charged in several jurisdictions, but he continued to steal from their stores.

An investigator for the Attorney General’s Office reviewed “numerous” hours of security footage shared by Albertsons senior organized crime investigator along with police and loss reports to tie the thefts to Harris.

A distinctive pattern emerged, according to court records. Harris would grab a shopping cart to put a tote bag in, then walk to where the store kept paper towels or diapers and place a large package of them in his cart, in what investigators believed was an attempt to hide the tote bag. He would then put eye drops and other health and beauty products in his bag before going to a different part of the store, where he would abandon his cart and leave.

Harris typically made off with $1,000 to $3,000 worth of merchandise, according to court records. The largest theft was Sept. 27 at the Tacoma Safeway on 72nd Street, allegedly taking $4,354.33 in products. Altogether, the thefts totaled $44,284.12 in losses.

He sometimes hit multiple stores in a single day, allegedly stealing from stores in Gig Harbor, Silverdale and Poulsbo on Nov. 9. Records show he often returned to the same store again and again, most frequently to the Gig Harbor Safeway on Point Fosdick Drive, which he allegedly stole $7,763.69-worth of merchandise from in five thefts between July and November last year.

Harris was twice confronted by loss-prevention employees or outside security, which resulted in $4,233.21-worth of products being recovered, according to court records. The first was Sept. 29 at a Bremerton Safeway. Harris was walking out the front door when an employee confronted him, and he dropped his tote bags and fled out an emergency exit.

The next day Harris allegedly tried to steal more eye-care products from a Safeway in Olympia on Harrison Avenue. An employee from Vigilant Asset Protection was reportedly watching a live camera feed while Harris concealed items in a tote bag and left the store. When he left, two other security guards detained him and brought him to a back room.

There, Harris allegedly admitted to the employees that he was stealing and reselling items to a “fence,” someone who knowingly buys stolen goods, in Seattle’s International District. He reportedly said he received 50 cents for each product he stole and that he was doing it to pay off a gambling debt.

Harris was then taken into custody by the Olympia Police Department, records state. Less than a month later, Oct. 22, Harris was allegedly pulling off thefts again at a Safeway in Parkland.