BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — PEABODY — A woman believed to be responsible for stealing thousands of dollars in merchandise from popular mall stores Victoria’s Secret and Sephora is expected to be arraigned today on felony larceny and trespassing charges arising from thefts at Northshore Mall in Peabody.
And Jennifer Santos, 28, of 48 Columbus Ave., Lawrence, will likely face similar charges in other jurisdictions, after security officers for several retail chains, including Abercrombie and Fitch, recognized her from thefts at other malls all over Massachusetts and New Hampshire, according to court documents.
Police estimate that Santos was involved in the thefts of more than $100,000 worth of merchandise in the two states. Because of the interstate nature of the offenses, the U.S. Marshals service has also become involved in the case.
The charges stem from an investigation that spanned several months this spring and summer, after police were told that a woman had stolen more than $24,000 worth of merchandise during six visits to Victoria’s Secret in the Northshore Mall. She allegedly stole as many as 100 pairs of panties and 50 bras at a time.
Police, through their investigation, also learned that the same person was also stealing thousands of dollars worth of fragrances from the Sephora store. Investigators say she had taken more than $12,000 worth of high-end merchandise, including fragrances by Prada, Fendi and Gucci, slipping the bottles into a large shoulder bag.
As the investigation was going on, there were more thefts reported by the two stores, whose employees recognized the same skinny blond woman with a pink or blue streak in her hair, according to court documents. Investigators documented some 13 visits, allegedly by Santos, to the Sephora store.
On one evening in June, for instance, Victoria’s Secret called to report that the woman had been in the store, grabbed more than $2,000 worth of underwear and then ran toward the mall food court.
A witness told police that the woman had been seen in the food court with a man, but within moments, police got a call from Sephora, stating that the woman had just hit that store and was now in a third store, Express, filling a bag with merchandise, according to court papers.
Police later found surveillance video from outside Nordstrom, showing the woman running to a waiting car parked near the Salem Five bank branch.
A list of area malls and stores where the woman is suspected of shoplifting was included in court papers; it stretches from Legacy Place in Foxborough to Steeplegate Mall in Concord, N.H.
Other area malls that were hit include Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H., Burlington Mall, Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua, N.H., Newington Mall in Newington, N.H., Chestnut Hill Mall, Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester, Solomon Pond Mall in Marlborough and Holyoke Mall. Investigators suspect Santos is part of a ring of professional shoplifters.
A security officer for Abercrombie and Fitch stores in New Hampshire recognized Santos as the suspect in thefts from their stores in Nashua, Newington and Salem.
After police released a surveillance image of the suspect last month, they were contacted by relatives of Santos, who recognized her.
And it turns out, Santos was still on probation for her role in other shoplifting cases.
A Lawrence District Court probation officer confirmed that Santos, who allegedly steals to support a drug habit, had been on release in a pending case from July when she cut off an electronic monitoring bracelet in August and disappeared from her uncle’s custody.
Santos was hospitalized at Lahey Burlington following her arrest; police did not know the nature of her illness, but her hospitalization led to a delay in her arraignment, originally scheduled to take place yesterday.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.