VALPARAISO | Valparaiso police have arrested two women accused of a pickpocket scheme at local grocery and discount stores.
Erica Roadlander, 31, of Crown Point, is charged with three counts of felony theft. Carolyn Bradley, 31, of Chicago, is charged with aiding in a theft and aiding in a fraud, both felonies.
Police said the women would target female shoppers who would put their purse in the shopping cart.
Detective Brian Thurman said Bradley would distract the shoppers, talking with them and having them turn away from their carts, while Roadlander would open the purse and remove the victim’s wallet.
Police said the pair would use the credit cards to purchase gift cards and to receive cash back on purchases.
The first Valparaiso case was reported July 31 by a Valparaiso woman who was shopping at WiseWay at 2168 Morthland Drive (U.S. 30). She told police a woman approached her in the area of the frozen foods asking her a question about an item. A short time later, another woman approached her and asked her questions about frozen foods. She then noticed her purse had been unzipped and that her wallet was missing.
About an hour and a half later, the victim told police unauthorized transactions were recorded at the Valparaiso Walmart.
Thurman said video surveillance from Walmart was the key to identifying the two women.
A second victim, a woman from LaCrosse, reported her wallet had been stolen Aug. 2. Her credit cards were used at local gas stations to purchase gift cards. Video surveillance from those gas stations showed Roadlander using the victim’s cards and signing the victim’s name, police said.
Thurman said police were called Friday by manager at WiseWay and he and Detective John Ross found the women in the store and arrested them.
Court documents state Roadlander admitted to police her involvement, but Bradley denied involvement in the scheme. Police said they recovered about 15 gift cards from Bradley.
Valparaiso police Sgt. Mike Grennes said Valparaiso police are working with Highland police and other agencies in Lake County about connections to similar cases.
Grennes said the cases serve as a reminder for shoppers to always keep a close eye on their belongings, especially wallets and purses, and to avoid being distracted by others while shopping.