Bay area wide wallet and purse theft ring busted in Tarpon Springs

Detectives looking for more suspects
Posted at 6:46 PM, Jul 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-06 18:22:25-04

Two women suspected in a multi-county wallet and purse stealing ring were arrested in Tarpon Springs.

Valorie Cave, 49, of Holiday, and Loraine Taffanelli, 32, of Tampa, committed at least two thefts at stores along the sponge docks, police said.

Now, police confirm there is at least one more suspect still on the street. That suspect was captured in surveillance video at One Amazing Find, a small shop in Tarpon Springs. He and a female, who police said is Cave, according to shop owners, distracted the store clerk and then stole two wallets sitting under the front counter.

"She came around the corner, you can see her rifle through the two purses, put them back into her big purse, walked back around and very nonchalantly, like it was no big deal," owner Lesley McDaid said.

McDaid realized the wallets had been stolen when the bank notified her husband of suspicious transactions only 30 minutes after the couple exited the store.

"They were excellent," Rita Giatras, owner of Rita's Creations, said. "Never in a million years would I have thought that these two were up to something."

Giatra's store was the last target of the ring. Her store was hit last Friday by two women.

According to police, the two targeted small, retail shops where one woman would distract the clerk while the other woman would snoop around for purses and wallets.

Giatra says one of them asked her about merchandise in the back of the store while the other went into a private room where she stole Giatra's purse. Only minutes later, undercover detectives who were following Cave and Taffanelli walked into Giatra's store asking if she noticed anything missing.

Detectives found Giatra's purse and keys in a trash can near by. All of her cash was missing.

"I would have been clueless [if the detectives didn't come in]," she said.

That same day the two are accused of stealing a bag of petty cash from Five Fish, another small retail shop about a block away from Rita's Creations. Employees there describe the same tactics.

The two women are also accused of similar thefts throughout Pinellas County in early April.

According to arrest reports, Cave and Taffanelli are suspected of similar crimes in Sarasota, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office would not say how many thefts the ring is responsible for, but several store owners say they were told by detectives that the folks involved appear to be connected to at least 15 similar thefts.