Lessons from the Balenciaga Case, a $94,000 Purse Theft in East Hampton

Women is holding a Balenciaga handbag near luxury car
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Last month, a woman pled guilty to second-degree grand larceny for stealing nearly $94,000 worth of pocketbooks from the Balenciaga pocketbook store on Newtown Lane in East Hampton. The theft took place as a snatch-and-go operation that took 30 seconds in broad daylight on March 3 — 48 purses in all. The woman couldn’t have done it alone, of course. $94,000 worth of pocketbooks is a lot of pocketbooks. Indeed, there was a gang. Also, there was a getaway car, a black Dodge Durango with tinted windows. And there was a plan made earlier, although it was only a plan to get the goods and not a plan to get away with the goods.

Three men and two women left Newark, New Jersey in the black Dodge Durango with tinted windows as the sun rose. It was March 3. Destination? East Hampton.

The two women were both in their 30s, the three men in their 20s. How they were supposed to divvy up the goods is not known. But in the event, the plan was for all of them to go into the store and scoop up as many clutches, purses and handbags as they could carry and run them out to the Durango. Maybe nine or 10 each. And 48 at about $2,000 a pocketbook, for that is what these pocketbooks are priced at, gets you to $94,000.

At 1:30 p.m. that afternoon, there were two employees in the store, a manager and a clerk. The black SUV pulled up out front, and a woman got out wearing a ski mask, maybe a COVID mask, and walked into Balenciaga holding a cell phone to her ear.

According to Associate Director Franco Polar, she was saying, “You know I don’t like shopping last minute.” And then she lowered the phone and started looking at the pocketbooks on the shelves. She turned to Polar and asked if they had a certain sneaker, was told yes they do, and she gave her size and Polar told the clerk to go down to the basement and find her size. Then he walked to the back of the store.

That’s when, according to Polar, all hell broke loose. The van doors opened, people hopped out, ran in and began taking handfuls of pocketbooks off the shelves. The associate director was stunned.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

Nobody replied. And 30 seconds later, all four were out the front door, past the shoppers strolling by, and into the SUV, which squealed off.

People immediately dialed 911. Asked for the license plate number, they had to say there was none. There were no license plates.

And so the cops gave chase. The SUV went down Main Street heading west, went faster and faster and then way over the speed limit. Eventually the cops slowed down. The high-speed chase was too dangerous. But they could phone ahead to Suffolk County and New York State Police to pull the SUV over.

The first thing you learn in Larceny School is that stealing things off shelves should be done at night when nobody’s around. You break a lock. You cover surveillance cameras with cloth. You tiptoe out and drive off slowly. (Yes, this was all caught on camera.)

Also, you don’t take off the license plates. Instead, you tape cardboard over them and stop after a while when it’s safe and remove the cardboard.

Also, if they’d been to Larceny School, they could have taken a shoplifting class. Shoplifting is done during the day, and you don’t worry about the surveillance cameras because you do it with your back turned, putting things inside a big coat you wear, and coming back frequently to take more. You don’t try to take everything in one trip.

And they teach about heists. Make sure, ahead of time, your van is in tip-top shape. They didn’t do that. When the East Hampton Village Police gave up the chase and passed it along to the county and state police, the Durango soon appeared, speeding down the Sunrise Highway, still at more than 100 miles an hour. The police followed. At the turn onto Manorville Road heading up to the Long Island Expressway at that high speed, the perps, among others, certainly heard and felt BANG, Kafluffa, Kafluffa, Kafluffa, which is the noise made by a car getting a flat tire.

They wobbled to the left turn at the Long Island Expressway, got on there and, proceeding along with smoke pouring out the back, finally pulled off onto the shoulder of the expressway, where, as the cops closed in, they ran off into the woods, the evidence left in the van. Not good.

Having a bad getaway car, running off into the woods and leaving the hot goods in the getaway car is frowned on at Larceny School.

In the end, helicopters, the 7th precinct, and K-9 units were called in and by 6:30 p.m., four of the five people were rounded up. The fifth, a woman, has not been found as of August 31. Maybe she’s still in the woods. In a cave. Or in a tree. Probably with some pocketbooks. We just don’t know.

This is a classic case of a botched heist. A good example of what not to do.

And so, as I wrote, one of the women pled guilty on August 16. She knew about pocketbooks for sure. As for the three young men, I don’t know what the story is, but for months several did not plead guilty. Maybe they argued that as men they can’t tell a Balenciaga from a Kmart and were just along for the ride. Anyway, on August 23, one of the three young men also pleaded guilty.

By the way, with the exception of one of the young men, the others were freed without bail. This was not a violent crime. And that’s the new law. The exception was that one of the men had prior felony convictions.

Sentencing for the two will take place on September 23. Those with no prior convictions could be sentenced to one to three years. Those with convictions could get five to 15.

Crime doesn’t pay.

Also, at this point, there has been talk among Wall Street people that Balenciaga pocketbooks be reclassified as currency, like dollars, euros and bitcoins. Perhaps rent a mansion in the Hamptons for a month for 91 Balenciaga ($200,000). Could happen.

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