Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
A Miami woman faces prosecution for eating three pieces of chocolate
without paying for them.
Nancy Vilanova, 74, was seized by two security guards at a
Winn-Dixie supermarket in Miami almost three months ago as she attempted to leave the store after paying for her groceries. Store officials say Vilanova allegedly “stole” three
Hershey’s Kisses from an open bag in an aisle.
Critics call Vilanova’s prosecution a “horrible waste of taxpayers’ money” and have wondered why Vilanova was offered no chance to make restitution or why the prosecuting attorney’s office is even bothering to pursue “such a petty charge.”
“Let’s face it, this case exudes a ‘gimme a break’ response,” said Jose O. Vilanova, Mrs. Vilanova’s son, who also wondered if the case had a racist motive. “Are there possible Cuban/Latino issues here on the part of the security officers?”
He also said the total amount for the entire bag of candy “may have amounted to $2.78.”
Jose Vilanova told WND his mother was “accosted” by security guards, forced into a back room and berated “to the point of tears” to sign a “confession.” He said the guards tried to “physically force her” signature, but she refused to sign and the security team called police.
After police officers arrived, they refused to take Mrs. Vilanova into custody and simply escorted her out of the store.
“At no time did they simply ask her to pay for the chocolates,” Jose Vilanova said.
According to the Miami-Dade prosecutor’s office, Mrs. Villanova was arrested May 11 on a misdemeanor shoplifting charge. Prosecutors did not return phone calls seeking information on the amount of time or fine Mrs. Vilanova could receive if convicted.
Winn-Dixie security head Mickey Clerc told WorldNetDaily that the grocery store chain’s policy in Florida mandates that security officials contact local police when they catch an alleged shoplifter.
“What the police do or who decides to level charges after that is out of our hands,” he said.
Clerc said he could provide no further details about the incident because it is currently in litigation. He also declined to answer charges that security personnel may have intimidated or treated Mrs. Vilanova roughly.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade prosecutors failed to return phone calls seeking comment. One official, who identified herself as Julie Greenberg, told WND Monday she would investigate the details of Villanova’s case and provide an update.
Jose Vilanova told WND that at a preliminary hearing Aug. 2, the state asked the court for a continuance because, he said, “they don’t have any evidence” that his mother is guilty.
Initially, he said, state and store officials claimed to have videotaped evidence that Mrs. Vilanova stole the three Hershey’s chocolates. But at the preliminary hearing, prosecutors said no such tape existed.
Also, Jose Vilanova said, Winn-Dixie officials initially proposed settling the matter out of court, but balked when he suggested they put it in writing.
Vilanova said his mother, who routinely shops several stores in a day and takes advantage of “free samples and offers” stores lay out for customers, did not open the bag of chocolates herself. Rather, he explained, she found the open bag on a shelf and presumed it was a sample offered by the store. At no time, he said, did she “conspire” to steal the candy.
He added that her attorney — Mari Carmen Jimenez, who could not be reached for comment — believes “this is a horrible waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Jose Vilanova said his mother offered to pay for the candy herself after security guards took her to a back room in the store to question her. But, “because she believed it was one of those free offers,” she never considered that she may have been stealing the candy.
“It never crossed her mind,” her son said.
He added that the court granted the state’s motion for a continuance, though he said he did not know the next court date.
“I’m just surprised that the store and the state, knowing that no real crime was committed here, is continuing this at all,” Jose Vilanova said.