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DA builds case in Lego thefts
May 24, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Prosecutors have charged a San Francisco man in a string of Lego scams in which he allegedly swapped the actual bar code on a $139.99 Millenium Falcon set for a lower price sticker and made a  profit by selling the building kits on eBay.

Donald Morales, 44, is charged with 14 counts of commercial burglary and one count of grand theft for reported incidents at four different Target stores in San Mateo County. Morales, who was cited rather than taken into custody after his February arrest, failed to appear in court Wednesday morning for arraignment, leading a judge to issue a warrant.

Morales’ arraignment came the day after the arrest of a San Carlos tech executive on similar Lego theft charges in Santa Clara County made headlines. In that case, Thomas Langenbach is accused of replacing the bar codes on $30,000 worth of Legos to buy them for a lower price before turning around and selling them online for a hefty profit.

San Mateo County prosecutors say Morales, too, was actually buying the items, albeit it for a much reduced price, rather than shoplifting them outright. After his arrest, Morales said he was out of work and needed money, said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

He also reportedly told authorities he didn’t make that much profit because of the shipping and PayPal fees.

"The overhead in being a thief was just too expensive,” Wagstaffe said.

Morales was nabbed April 14 at the Target in Redwood City but released on a misdemeanor citation because the arresting officer didn’t know he was linked to similar thefts at similar stores. Detectives eventually linked him to 14 separate trips to Target stores between Feb. 20 and April 14 — six in San Bruno, four in San Mateo, three in Redwood City and one in Daly City. In all but one, Morales allegedly put a $15.99 price tag on the higher price Lego sets and purchased them with his own credit card. He then sold the sets on eBay using PayPal, Wagstaffe said.

The loss to the stores was calculated at less than $2,000.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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