A woman who stole items from a Walgreens in San Francisco and escaped by coughing at employees and claiming to have the coronavirus was convicted Wednesday of a federal charge.
Carmelita Barela, 36, of San Francisco, was found guilty of robbery affecting interstate commerce for the incident that took place last April in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
A federal complaint said Barela and another woman entered the store near the Civic Center unmasked and carrying empty bags.
When one woman began coughing, the store manager asked her to leave if she was sick but instead, she and Barela began to cough while taking merchandise off the shelves and putting the items in the bags, authorities said.
When the store manager told them to leave, the pair claimed to have COVID-19, prosecutors said.
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.
Barela faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced next month.
“The spread of COVID-19 has forced almost all of us to make sacrifices and to rely on each other to maintain our safety and good health,” acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds said in a statement. “Unfortunately, some people have tried to use the crisis to intimidate essential workers and to commit crimes. This conviction demonstrates that those who seek to exploit the pandemic ... will be held accountable.”