Couple Arrested in Alleged Pickpocketing Scam in Pasadena

Arrest Warrant document with reading glasses

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A pair of suspected con artists are in custody for allegedly targeting Latino victims in pickpocketing scams in Pasadena by partaking in prayer sessions on the street while relieving their victims of cash, authorities said today.

It was a change in the method of operation that led to the arrest of Pamela Linu, 28, and Gheorghe Aronel, 33, when they allegedly pulled up in a gray SUV on March 11 alongside a woman in the 300 block of East Villa Street, who was sitting near the street corner, and forcibly took her property, according to Lt. Mario Ortiz of the Pasadena Police Department.

  ``Investigating officers located surveillance video which captured a partial license plate of a possible suspect vehicle allowing detectives to further their investigation,'' Ortiz said. Detectives followed up on the vehicle information Wednesday and determined it frequented an address in Baldwin Park, he said.  ``Detectives located the gray SUV parked near a Baldwin Park motel and learned occupants in one of the motel rooms matched the suspect descriptions from the multiple Pasadena thefts/robberies,'' he said.

 The string of crimes -- which police believe could be part of an extensive organized crime ring targeting victims across multiple jurisdictions and possibly across several states -- began on July 29 of last year when officers responded to the 400 block of South Los Robles Avenue regarding a pickpocket theft, he said. ``The suspects drove alongside the Hispanic male victim, when a female suspect passenger offered to pray and provide blessings to the victim,'' Ortiz said. ``Distracted by the blessing, the suspects removed money from the victim's wallet.''

A similar scam occurred on Sept. 28 in the area of Raymond Avenue and Villa Street, where suspects in a vehicle claimed to be of a religious faith and distracted the Latino male victim with fake jewelry, while removing money from a wallet. On Oct. 10, in the 500 block of East Villa Street, suspects placed an melderly Latino man in a vehicle and removed money from his pockets, while in a prayer session. On Oct. 13, in the area of Marengo Avenue at Washington Boulevard, a Latino woman was waiting at a bus stop, when the suspects drove up ``offering blessings, while removing money from her purse,'' Ortiz said.

  On Nov. 8, at a bus stop near Allen Avenue at Villa Street, suspects drove up to a Latino man and ``while mentioning information about a charitable donation, the suspects presented a firearm and removed money from the victim's pockets.'' On March 11, officers responded to the 300 block of East Orange Grove Boulevard regarding a theft of money and jewelry. They reported that suspects drove up to a Latino man as he walked along the sidewalk, ``distracted the victim with (a) religious blessing while removing the loss,'' Ortiz said.

 A short time later, in the 300 block of East Villa Street, Linu and Aronel allegedly changed their method of operation and forcibly took the property of a Latino woman, who was sitting near a street corner, authorities said. Linu and Aronel were taken into custody and their 8-year-old son was taken into protective custody by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. On Friday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office filed three counts of robbery against Linu and Aronel. Their bail has been set at $150,000 each, Ortiz said.

  Pasadena police urged anyone with information regarding this case to call them at 626-744-4241 or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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