A man accused of stealing a young Girl Scouts' cookie cash box in front of a Clairemont Square Vons Sunday pleaded not guilty.
Erik Mullen, 28, pleaded not guilty to a series of charges, including petty theft, receiving stolen property and drug possession.
Prosecutors say Mullen's role in an ID theft check cashing scheme, with a woman who appeared alongside him in court, carries felony charges. He could face up to three years in prison.
The cookie cash box theft happened Sunday afternoon when Leyla Hayward, a 12-year-old member of Girl Scout Troup 4565, was sitting in front of the Vons selling cookies with her mom.
The dedicated member was just 100 boxes shy of her 1,000 box goal when Mullen allegedly swooped in and took off with her cash box.
Deema Hayward and her daughter Leyla had around $400 in their cash box when the man came up and grabbed their box.
“I think it’s horrible just to steal from anybody, but to steal from a child who has been working so hard day after day to meet their goal, it’s just horrible,” Deema Hayward told NBC 7. “She goes out every day door to door, booth sale after booth sale, trying to reach her goal."
Police say someone in the shopping center saw it happen and chased after Mullen, causing him to drop his cell phone along the way.
Several hours later, Mullen was arrested and charged.
San Diego police say the investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information can call the police at 619-531-2000, or the Crime Stoppers tip line at 888-580-8477.
If you would like to help, you can call to (619) 610-0731 to make a donation.