2 women face charges after allegedly stealing from San Francisco Walgreens while claiming to have COVID-19

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two San Francisco women face charges of committing robbery affecting interstate commerce for allegedly attempting to steal goods from a Walgreens store in San Francisco while claiming to be infected with novel coronavirus, the United States Attorney's Office announced Friday.

According to the complaint, San Francisco residents Carmelita Barela, 36, and Rosetta Shabazz, 32, were in the Walgreens near Civic Center on April 6 without wearing masks and carrying empty bags.

Shabazz allegedly began to cough without covering her mouth and the store manager asked her to leave if she was sick.

"Instead, Shabazz walked over to Barela and both defendants began to cough audibly while taking merchandise off the shelves and placing it into their bags," officials said in a news release.

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When ordered to leave, they reportedly said they had the virus, continued to cough audibly, then left with unpurchased merchandise.

"It is an unfortunate reality that there will be those in our community who try to take advantage of the current pandemic to prey on people's fear of contracting COVID-19," said U.S. Attorney David Anderson said in a statement. "While many in our community can remain safe by sheltering in place, store managers and clerks are putting themselves out into the world for our benefit. They don't deserve to be threatened and robbed. Everyone suffers from a crime like this."

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett said that "In a time when our communities have come together to be responsible and stay safe, the FBI will simply not tolerate the criminal actions of the few individuals who use fear and intimidation to endanger others. We must protect the front-line service workers who are providing the public with the critical supplies we all need."

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Barela and Shabazz were arrested on April 23.

Shabazz made her first appearance in court Friday morning and was released to home confinement. Her next appearance is scheduled for April 28 for a bond hearing. Barela's next appearance is scheduled for April 27.

If convicted they face a maximum sentence of 20 years of prison and a $250,000 fine.

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