'Catch And Release': Suspect in Viral LA Flash Mob Robbery Was Released on Cashless Bail One Day Before Heist

Soros-backed prosecutor George Gascón has called cash bail 'unjust' and 'unsafe'

George Gascón (Getty Images)
August 30, 2023

A Los Angeles woman accused of participating in a viral flash mob robbery was released on cashless bail just one day before the heist, court records show, reflecting the city's struggle to fight crime under liberal prosecutor George Gascón.

Los Angeles police last week arrested Ziona Janea Famoso for her role in a viral August 12 smash-and-grab robbery at a Nordstrom department store, where dozens of masked thieves destroyed displays and left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen goods. If not for the city's cashless bail policy, however, Famoso may not have participated. Just days before the heist, on August 8, Famoso was arrested and charged with felony theft after she allegedly took part in two other organized retail robberies, court filings reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon show. But Famoso was released on her own recognizance on August 11, according to the filings, allowing her to ransack the Nordstrom store one day later.

The revelation comes as Los Angeles experiences a surge in organized retail crime under George Soros-backed prosecutor Gascón, who campaigned as a liberal reformer working to "dramatically change" what he called a failed "tough-on-crime approach." Gascón in 2020 announced an end to cash bail on his first day in office, calling the practice "unjust" and "unsafe." While Gascón walked back that policy last year, a Los Angeles judge in May reinstated cashless bail in the city, arguing that a "wealth-based detention system" is unconstitutional.

Retail thefts soared in Los Angeles following the decision, a trend that law enforcement officials blame on the city's soft-on-crime reforms.

"It's 100 percent 'catch and release,'" said Los Angeles County deputy district attorney Eric Siddall, who is running to replace Gascón in 2024. "That's basically going to be the policy of Los Angeles County for lower-level felonies and most misdemeanors. You do a smash-and-grab, you're going to be released in time to do a second one on the same day."

Gascón is one of several left-wing prosecutors who have received substantial campaign support from liberal billionaire Soros, who contributed $2 million to Gascón's 2020 campaign. Gascón has vowed to run for a second term next year, though criticism from fellow Democrats over the recent spike in retail robberies could deter his reelection bid, with past supporters saying Gascón's policies turned Los Angeles into a "zombie town."

"These criminals are not getting prosecuted and they know it," one former supporter told the New York Post. "It's off the rails."

Famoso is not the only Nordstrom heist suspect with a long rap sheet. Three other defendants in the case have prior felony arrests, records show, and all three have been released on cashless bail in the past. This time around, however, Famoso will not be able to walk the Los Angeles streets for free following her latest arrest. California attorney general Rob Bonta (D.) on Friday charged Famoso with a slew of felonies and set her bail at $1 million. Gascón's office told the Free Beacon it was not "presented" Famoso's case and said Bonta is "well situated" to prosecute the retail thieves.

In addition to Los Angeles's no-bail policy, experts say the city has struggled to combat retail and property crime thanks to Proposition 47, a 2014 state ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain theft crimes. Under the measure, which Gascón co-authored, a thief who steals less than $950 worth of property is charged with a misdemeanor, not a felony. For Independent Institute senior fellow Lawrence McQuillan, the policy must end should California want to fight property crime.

"Property crimes have true victims, and true victims deserve true justice," McQuillan told the Free Beacon.