A St. Paul woman who allegedly rang up more than $8,000 in charges after stealing credit cards from elderly shoppers was charged with fraud and theft Thursday.
Zetta Mallett, 54, faces eight counts of financial transaction card fraud and two charges of theft.
According to the charges, Mallett would frequent Target, Cub Foods and Walmart stores across the metro area and wait for elderly women to leave their purses unattended. She would hang around stores for hours waiting, and if that ploy failed, an accomplice would distract shoppers while Mallett stole their wallets, the criminal complaint said.
Then they would drive to nearby stores, where Mallett would withdraw cash from an ATM or purchase prepaid gift cards, the charges say. They also allegedly used victims' cards for gas and smaller purchases.
In total, Mallett attempted to steal $12,000 over two dozen transactions in six months from 2016 to 2017, but on two occasions the victim's card was declined, the charges say. The victims' ages ranged from 69 to 95 years old.
Mallett's first heist was on Dec. 28, 2016, when an 82-year-old woman shopping at Cub Foods in Plymouth reported her debit card was stolen and that several withdrawals were made, the complaint said. Mallett had used the card to buy gas for a GMC Yukon at a Holiday gas station off Hwy. 55 in Plymouth. She also spent $20 inside the store before driving to another Holiday at 3020 Fernbrook Lane N., the charges say.
Surveillance footage showed Mallett, wearing the same track suit worn at the other Holiday, withdrawing money from an ATM, authorities say. Bank records show $480 was withdrawn across four different transactions.
Mallett didn't commit another theft until late spring, when she allegedly stole from four different shoppers at the Vadnais Heights Walmart from May to July last summer. A police investigator learned she would wear wigs to disguise her appearance, according to the complaint. The investigator issued an alert to the Twin Cities Organized Retail Crime Association and identified the accomplice's GMC Yukon.
Last July, Woodbury police located and arrested the alleged accomplice in the SUV in a Walmart parking lot and Mallett as she exited the store. Police found a "dark, curly wig in the center console" while searching the vehicle, the complaint said.
Her accomplice identified Mallett in surveillance footage and admitted to driving her during the heists. The accomplice has yet to be charged.
Mallett has 11 prior felony convictions.
Trevor Squire is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.