On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Indictment No. 04-10-2136.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 1, 2009
Before Judges Payne and Waugh.
Defendant Harry Abreu appeals his conviction on one count of third-degree theft by unlawful taking, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3(a). We affirm.
On the afternoon of May 4, 2004, Detective David J. LaGrone and his partner, Detective Glenn Pagano, both of the Paramus Police Department, began working their shift at the Garden State Mall in Paramus. The officers were assigned to the anti-crime unit, which was a plain-clothes, self-directed detail designed to apprehend shoplifters at the mall. About an hour into their shift, the detectives observed two males exiting Macy's department store carrying wrinkled, worn-looking Banana Republic shopping bags, which appeared full. At trial, LaGrone identified co-defendant Miguel Jesurum as one of the men he saw carrying the bags.
LaGrone observed Jesurum and the other man walk over to a black car with a temporary registration affixed to the rear windshield. They opened the trunk of the car and deposited the contents of the Banana Republic bags into the trunk. LaGrone noticed that the contents of the bags appeared to be multiples of the same clothing items; for example, "[i]f it was a belt, it was like ten belts." LaGrone also saw that the clothing still had price tags attached. LaGrone's training and experience led him to believe the clothing was stolen.
Jesurum and the other man finished emptying their bags into the car's trunk, folded the bags up, put them underneath their clothing, and walked back into the mall. About five minutes after Jesurum and the other man left the car, two more men came out of the mall, walked to the vehicle and repeated the process, also using worn-and-tattered shopping bags. The two men emptied multiples of the same item with price tags attached into the back of the car. LaGrone identified Abreu as one of the two men in the second group.
The detectives then entered the mall. LaGrone followed Abreu and the other man. Pagano contacted LaGrone on his cell phone and informed him that the other pair of suspects had left Macy's, entered the black car, and left the area. LaGrone continued watching Abreu and his companion in Macy's.
LaGrone, keeping his distance so as to not alert the men of his presence, observed Abreu and the other man acting in tandem. One would stack clothing; and the other would come up afterward and put the clothing into a worn bag. He also noticed the men would go into corners and other areas where surveillance cameras were not likely to be present. Eventually, the two men left Macy's. The other man was carrying the bag and Abreu walked with him. They went up and down the escalators several times, which according to LaGrone was done to see "if they're being tailed." During the period LaGrone was watching them, they never approached a cash register.
As Abreu and his companion exited the mall, they were making calls on their cell phones. Shortly thereafter, the black car, driven by Jesurum, pulled up nearby. Abreu and the other man walked up to the car, put the bag into the vehicle, and got in. At that point, LaGrone, Pagano, and another detective approached the car and identified themselves as police officers.
After observing "numerous belts and other items" in one of the worn bags in open view, the detective began to search the car. They recovered clothing items from Macy's totaling $1,995, as well as items from Nordstrom, The Gap, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, Express, and Club Monaco. The grand total of recovered items, based on their price tags, was $6,947.
During the search, the detectives also recovered two screwdrivers and a box cutter. They found two New York license plates on the floor of the vehicle, from which they determined the registered owner of the vehicle was Jesurum's mother. When detectives asked the men if they had receipts, the men failed to produce receipts for the clothing. During the subsequent search of the car, ...