Three young women face as many as 20 charges related to a crime spree that began six months ago in Palo Alto and other Santa Clara County cities, the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety has announced.
The trio -- Melissa Larsen, 20, Madeline Amelia Lopez, 19, and Julia Marie Peruzzi, 18, all from Sunnyvale -- were arrested on Sept. 21 and 22, Sunnyvale police Capt. Shawn Ahern said.
The women allegedly targeted real estate open houses and stores, including a shop at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto. They sought female employees working alone at an open house or in the business, police said. One of the women allegedly would plug a toilet or create another diversion while another allegedly would steal cash and credit cards from the victim's purse. Police said the third woman drove the getaway car to a Safeway or CVS store where they bought gift cards using the stolen credit cards.
The crimes spanned Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Los Gatos and Santa Clara. In the Palo Alto case, the Peruzzi and Larsen allegedly entered Malia Mills, a clothing shop at Town & Country, on May 8 at 4:30 p.m. and tried on clothing. They went into the changing area, which was separated from the showroom by a curtain, but they left without making a purchase, Palo Alto police Capt. Zach Perron said. The curtained area was within reach of a female employee's purse.
The female employee later discovered three unauthorized charges on two credit cards at various locations in the shopping center, totaling roughly $300, Perron said.
The employee went to the stores to investigate and found surveillance video of the women who made the purchases. She recognized them as the same two who had been trying on clothing at Malia Mills. She reported the crime to Palo Alto police on May 13, and investigators took possession of the surveillance video, Perron said.
A break came in late August, after Los Gatos/Monte Sereno detectives contacted Palo Alto police after seeing a flyer about the suspects in the Palo Alto case. Los Gatos/Monte Sereno police had identified the women after investigating a similar case in their jurisdiction, Perron said.
Larsen was subsequently charged with two felonies in the Palo Alto case: identity theft and second-degree burglary.
Sunnyvale detectives linked the three women to additional crimes and identified other victims. The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office issued arrest warrants for the trio.
The Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office and Los Gatos, Palo Alto and Santa Clara police agencies worked collaboratively on the investigation.
Police are asking that anyone who thinks she was targeted in the crimes to contact them. Palo Alto residents can contact the Palo Alto Police Department at 650-329-2413.