13 Arrested in Retail Theft Operation

NEWS RELEASE #: 16-099

The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office arrested 13 people in a four-day operation targeting retail theft in Sarasota County.

During the operation, deputies focused on retail corridors in Sarasota as well as South Tamiami Trail in Venice. The unique public-private partnership between the sheriff's office and local retailers began in 2013 with the goal of working together to curb retail theft.

Of particular note is the arrest of a Tampa woman who attempted to use a stolen credit card four times at the Target on N. Cattlemen Road. Further investigation revealed Essie Sweet, DOB 12/12/68, stole the card from an employee's wallet at Doctor's Hospital in Sarasota. Sweet is a repeat offender from Hillsborough County with a criminal history dating back nearly 30 years. Laura Schweppe, DOB 7/08/89, arrested for Violation of Probation, has been charged six times and convicted four times of Petit Theft in Sarasota County. Several of the arrests made were related to drug charges.

"These retail operations are part of our intelligence-led policing model," said Sheriff Tom Knight. "Based on crime analysis, we can look at hotspots and deploy resources during these maintenance-type initiatives. Our goal was to not only assist local businesses but also to send a message to criminals that retail crime will not be tolerated in this community."

In total, deputies made 13 arrests and filed 32 charges. Altogether, these criminals have 197 prior charges and 57 prior convictions.

The following people were arrested during the operation:

- Luis Diaz-Druz, DOB 03/28/77, 3353 Island Date Circle, Sarasota, charged with Petit Theft, Criminal Use of Personal Identification.

- Christopher Castleman, DOB 09/30/76, 500 N. Jefferson Avenue, Sarasota, charged with Possession of Methamphetamine.

- Lauren Schweppe, DOB 07/08/89, 623 Flamingo Road, Venice, charged with Petit Theft Less than $5,000, Violation of Probation.

- Patrick Phillips, DOB 01/08/76, 7878 Barr Road, Myakka City, charged with Petit Theft, Possession of Methamphetamine.

- Gabriel Harrison, DOB 04/27/75, 4011 Nelson Avenue, Sarasota, charged with two counts of Trafficking in Oxycodone, Possession of Cocaine, Possession of Narcotics Equipment.

- Essie Sweet, DOB 12/12/68, 1772 Warrington Way, Tampa, charged with three counts of Fraudulent Use of Personal Identification, Unauthorized Possession of and Unlawful Acts Involving a Driver's License, Burglary of an Occupied Structure.

- Judith Custer, DOB 04/04/56, 7054 Iris Court, Grand Blanc, MI, charged with Petit Theft.

- Peter Sommeling, DOB 06/26/77, 638 E. Bird Bay Drive, Venice, charged with Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Sell, Possession of Cannabis Under 20 Grams, Possession of Narcotics Equipment, Petit Theft Less Than $100, Resisting A Retail Merchant.

- Steven Questel, DOB 11/07/88, 416 Randolph Road, Venice, charged with Violation of Probation.

- Laura Blackwell, DOB 10/05/64, 3223 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, issued a summons for Petit Theft.

- Kimberly Ellithorpe, DOB 08/19/64, 6605 Rue Court, North Port, issued a summons for Petit Theft.

- Jessica Sheridan-Byers, DOB 06/01/81, 2868 Browning Street, Sarasota, issued a summons for Petit Theft.

This operation utilized the Tactical, Intelligence, Crime Analysis and Traffic units in addition to Patrol, Criminal Investigations and Corrections personnel. To date, the 10 retail theft operations have resulted in 216 arrests. TAC has identified additional suspects and more charges are pending.