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Press Release

San Francisco Resident Convicted Of Robbery Affecting Interstate Commerce In Scheme To Steal Merchandise While Threatening To Spread Covid-19

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California
Defendant Entered a Walgreens, Coughed Audibly, Claimed to Have “COVID,” and Stole Merchandise from Store.

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal jury convicted Carmelita Barela today of committing robbery affecting interstate commerce in connection with a scheme to steal merchandise from a Walgreens while claiming to have COVID-19, announced Acting United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair.  The conviction follows a 2-day trial before the Honorable Charles R. Breyer, United States District Judge.

“The spread of COVID-19 has forced almost all of us to make sacrifices and to rely on each other to maintain our safety and good health,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Hinds.  “Unfortunately, some people have tried to use the crisis to intimidate essential workers and to commit crimes.  This conviction demonstrates that those who seek to exploit the pandemic and commit crimes for their own personal gain will be held accountable.”

"The FBI did not stand by while criminals were using the COVID-19 pandemic to threaten and intimidate frontline workers," said Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair. "People working in grocery stores and convenience stores were risking going to work so the rest of us could get the food and medicine we needed. The FBI has remained committed to this case to protect the essential workers in our community."

At trial, the government submitted evidence that on April 6, 2020, Barela, 36, of San Francisco, and another woman entered a Walgreens near San Francisco’s Civic Center with empty bags and without wearing masks.  After the store manager offered assistance, the other woman began to cough without covering her mouth.  The store manager asked the other woman to leave the store if she was sick.  Instead, the woman walked over to Barela and both defendants began to cough audibly while taking merchandise off the shelves and placing it into their bags.  The manager told the defendants to leave the store, to which they responded by saying, “We have COVID.” Barela continued to cough audibly and eventually left the store without paying for the merchandise the defendants placed into their bags.

A grand jury indicted Barela on June 22, 2020, charging her with robbery affecting interstate commerce (Hobbs Act Robbery), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951. The jury convicted Barela of the charge. 

Barela faces a maximum sentence of 20 years of prison and a $250,000 fine.  In addition, the court may order restitution and an additional term of supervised release.  However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553. 

Judge Breyer ordered the Barela detained pending sentencing and scheduled a sentencing hearing for August 4, 2021.    

Assistant United States Attorneys Abraham Fine and Leif Dautch are prosecuting the case with assistance from Soana Katoa and Margoth Turcios.  The prosecution is a result of an investigation by the FBI. 

Updated July 15, 2021