SARASOTA (WWSB) - As the busiest shopping season of the year kicks off, deputies are on heightened alert for shoplifters.
Just last week, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office said it caught 15 people stealing in Sarasota and Venice over a three day period.
From a three day operation, deputies made 15 arrests with 31 charges. But altogether, 13 of the 15 people they arrested have 371 prior charges and 142 prior convictions.
“The most surprising thing is the amount of charges that some of these individuals had and they’re still out in the streets and committing these crimes and they’re really not getting it," said Lieutenant Daniel Tutko with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. "They still believe they can get away with this in today’s day in age.”
During the operation, the stores the thieves targeted varied as much as the items they stole.
“It runs the gamut from cat food to bikes to clothing to drinks, so really its all ends of the spectrum," Lieutenant Tutko explained. "You have one individual stealing a pair of wire snips and he gets a felony out of it, because anything he steals, based on his arrest history is a felony.”
In fact, that’s one name many might recognize.
Jesse Fleming is the brother of Luke Fleming, who was just arrested for a 1999 cold case murder.
Jesse had his own plethora of priors. This time, he was caught stealing the wire snips from the Home Depot on Cattleman Road.
“That’s crazy to know that people will get to that extreme to steal things," said Zlatina Velikova, a shopper of UTC mall who goes there almost every day with her kids.
Deputies patrolled several stores during the operation, including the UTC area, Home Depot and Walmart on Cattleman Road.
Though most of these thieves stole items from stores, deputies said they want to use this as a reminder that leaving any wallet or purse unattended is never a good idea.
“I just leave it at the playground and just grab my child and go play, I didn’t think that somebody would just take it," admitted Velikova.
“Keep your purse with you, keep your wallet on you, don’t leave it on a counter, don’t leave it in a shopping cart, make sure you know where everything is," Lieutenant Tutko said.
After hearing that, Velikova said, “Absolutely. Everything will be with us from now on.”
As the gift giving season draws nearer, deputies said to also make sure to stay aware of any surroundings, looking out for people who may be looking to attack.
Shoppers should also remember to lock their cars and hide any valuables because it only takes seconds for a theft to occur.