Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — Lora Maul thought that she’d put the nightmare behind her.
But when a former co-worker’s allegations against the Walmart employee resurfaced this week, memories of the worst thing that ever happened to her came rushing back.
Maul, who also goes by Leokadija, was initially implicated in the theft of items from the big-box retailer, based on the statements of suspects Julia Bailon and Tara Bailon.
The two suspects were among five other women who were arrested in June, after they allegedly tried to steal nearly $1,700 in merchandise from the store.
Once they were taken into custody and advised of their Miranda rights, four Bailon family members and a sister-in-law allegedly signed written confessions to the crime. They also told police that Maul assisted them by letting them know when the store’s loss prevention staff members were not on duty.
When authorities first confronted Maul with those allegations, she said she could not believe what she was hearing.
At that point, she’d devoted just under 25 years of her life to Walmart, and during that time, she said that no one ever accused her of stealing from the company, or helping others to steal.
“Why would I want to jeopardize my job like that?” she asked Wednesday.
Maul answered her own question at length in an earlier letter to Alamosa County Court, in which she repeatedly proclaimed her innocence.
Less than a week after the court received the letter, Deputy District Attorney Lara Reincke formally dismissed the case against Maul, according to court records. (The district attorney’s office could not be reached for comment Wednesday.)
Before that time, though, Maul said she never had the occasion to tell her side of the story.
“I was not even given an opportunity to be interviewed by the police or been able to give a statement, like they were,” she said in the letter. “I don’t think that was right. I didn’t get a chance to defend myself.”
Instead, she said she was treated like a criminal, adding that her reputation was damaged when her name appeared in the newspaper.
“I feel like a bad injustice (has) been done to me,” she wrote. “I was not involved with Julia and her daughters crimes in any way.”
While Maul’s name came up during the suspects’ interviews with police, it is never mentioned in the initial reports on the June 26 incident, or previous incidents.
According to the first report, Julia Bailon, then a Walmart associate, is seen leaving her department with a shopping cart full of merchandise. Soon afterwards, Bailon is seen leading her son, his wife and the cart out of the store, the report says.
When a loss prevention employee reviewed video surveillance later that same day, he reported that he saw footage of Bailon’s daughter pushing another full cart out of the building.
Four days later, the employee said he spotted Bailon herself moving a packed cart to the housewares department. At one point, she removed diaper bags and hid them behind two comforters, the employee reported.
On occasion, Bailon would walk by the bags and place merchandise inside them, and eventually, the employee reported that she transferred some of the items into a Walmart bag.
Afterward, four women were confronted as they allegedly tried to push two carts full of the hidden items and other merchandise out of the store. Jessica Bailon, Michelle Felice Martinez, Lorie Ann Nieto and Tara Bailon allegedly confessed to their involvement in the crime; Nieto has since pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor theft.
In her letter to the court, Maul said she was working in the fitting room at the time, and wasn’t aware of what allegedly happened on the other side of the store.
She said she called the store’s loss prevention department because that task falls under her job description: when a call comes through to loss prevention or management, she has to notify them.
Maul still finds it upsetting that anyone would accuse her of being involved in theft or shoplifting.
“I know that I’m innocent of any wrong doing and to be accused of something that I didn’t do is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” she said in her letter to the court.
While the Bailons’ accusations continue to sting, Maul has reason to feel vindicated. After the case against her was dismissed, she returned to work at Walmart.
She just passed the quarter-century mark with the company.