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5 family members arrested in shoplifting case

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PHOENIX (AP) — Five members of a Phoenix-area family are accused of stealing more than $15,000 worth of lingerie and other clothing from retail stores, and authorities said the group also might have shoplifted in northern Arizona.

Some of the lingerie and other stolen items were traded for drugs, while others were sold at yard sales, Phoenix police said Monday.

Arrested after police served a search warrant at their Tolleson home were Elizabeth Rodriguez-Alvarez, 48; her son Mario Vargas, 28; daughter Terrie Yvette Vargas, 25; daughter Lizzette Vargas, 27; and son-in-law Jose Alvarez-Burgos, 23.

None of the five have attorneys yet, according to court documents.

Terrie Vargas and Lizzette Vargas both were ordered held without bond Monday after their initial court appearances. Bond was set at $3,600 for Mario Vargas and $2,100 for Jose Alvarez-Burgos, while Rodriguez-Alvarez was released on her own recognizance with supervision restrictions.

The suspects face various charges including fraud schemes, illegal control of an enterprise, aggravated robbery, organized retail theft, trafficking in stolen property and assault. But police said not all family members were charged with each alleged offense.

Many stolen items were recovered during the search, including some still containing the sales tag and security device, Officer James Holmes said.

Police said the search warrant executed Friday followed a two-month investigation into thefts from stores such as Victoria's Secret and Ulta between November 2013 and last month.

The suspects often would distract the businesses' employees to commit the thefts, authorities said.

During one incident, Terrie Vargas and Mario Vargas reportedly stole clothing from a store at Glendale's Arrowhead Mall and were confronted by a security guard outside. Police said Mario Vargas used pepper spray on the guard and then escaped to a car in the parking lot and fled.

The Phoenix Police Department's Business and Economic Stability Team launched an investigation into the family's activities in June. Officers monitored the family and made purchases from them at their yard sales, Holmes said.

Detectives said the same suspects are accused of shoplifting from Victoria's Secret stores in Flagstaff and Prescott, and those agencies are conducting their own investigations. It's not immediately clear if any family member shoplifted from other areas of Arizona, according to authorities.

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