A preschool worker accused of operating a $1 million scheme to fleece department stores of designer handbags has been ordered to remain in jail.
A federal judge ruled Wednesday Praepitcha Smatsorabudh, who faces a federal charge of wire fraud, poses a flight risk and must be held by U.S. marshals until trial.
Smatsorabudh worked at the Beddow Montessori school in Fort Washington, Maryland, until her first appearance in federal court Friday, when she was formally charged. Though the school declined News4’s request for comment on the case, parents of Beddow students said Smatsorabudh was a teacher of 4-year-old children.
In testimony Wednesday, an investigator with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security described Smatsorabudh’s alleged scheme. He said Smatsorabudh would purchase authentic designer bags from department stores, including at least 226 of them from T.J. Maxx stores, then return imitation bags bought separately for refunds at the stores.
The agent testified a merchandise expert with Louis Vitton confirmed, after review, that dozens of the bags returned to T.J. Maxx were inauthentic.
The agent said Smatsorabudh would later resell the authentic bags for profit through eBay and Instagram.
Federal investigators said they seized at least 527 handbags from Smatsorabudh’s South Arlington Street home in Arlington, Virginia. According to their court filings, they also seized packages shipped to the Beddow School.
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Jennifer Sweetman, who says her daughter Jasmine was a student of Smatsorabudh at the Beddow School, said parents are troubled by the criminal charges.
“You can’t expect someone who does not behave ethically to be a good role model,” Sweetman said.
In charging documents, federal investigators said the designer handbags she purchased cost an average of $2,000.
In at least one case detailed in court records, Smatsorabudh purchased an authentic ruby red Celine Ring handbag from a department store in October, investigators said. Within weeks, she returned an inauthentic bag, they said. She then posted a Celine Ring handbag on eBay in December.
Smatsorabudh’s attorney declined to comment to News4 after her court appearance Friday.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.