Women Claiming to Have Virus Charged With Robbing Store, Could Face 20 Years if Convicted

Federal prosecutors say the women were arrested Thursday and face robbery charges

NBC 5 News

Two women have been charged with stealing items from a Walgreens in San Francisco and escaping by coughing at employees and claiming to have the coronavirus.

Carmelita Barela, 36, and Rosetta Shabazz, 32, were charged with robbery affecting interstate commerce, federal prosecutors announced Friday.

The San Francisco women were arrested Thursday. It wasn't immediately clear whether they had attorneys who could speak on their behalf.

A federal complaint says that the women entered the store near the Civic Center on April 6, carrying empty bags.

“After the store manager offered assistance, Shabazz allegedly began to cough without covering her mouth," according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.

The store manager asked Shabazz 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,” the statement said. “The manager told the defendants to leave the store, to which they responded by saying, “We have COVID.”

The manager and a security guard didn't want to go near the women, who filled their bags with about $90 worth of goods and left without paying, authorities said.

“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,” U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson said.

“Store managers and clerks are putting themselves out into the world for our benefit," he said. “They don’t deserve to be threatened and robbed. Everyone suffers from a crime like this.”

If convicted, the women could each face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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