Pickpockets Are Targeting Coachella Festivalgoers — and Their Phones

Coachella's Saraha Tent has become a hunting ground for pickpockets on the lookout for iPhones, police say.EXPAND
Coachella's Saraha Tent has become a hunting ground for pickpockets on the lookout for iPhones, police say.
Mathew Tucciarone/L.A. Weekly

After a suspect was arrested for allegedly possessing more than 100 stolen iPhones at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival over the weekend, police warned that an increasing number of pickpockets are circulating through the crowd.

Reinaldo De Jesus Henao, 36, of New York was collared on suspicion of grand theft and possession of stolen property Friday after victims using Apple's Find My iPhone feature tracked him down on the grounds of the annual event in Indio, police said.

Starting last year, officers patrolling the venue's grounds, the Empire Polo Club, noticed an increase in pickpockets. And this year the pickpockets are back. Indio police Sgt. Dan Marshall says they've been roaming the Sahara Tent, known for its electronic dance music acts and clublike atmosphere. That's where cops claim Henao hunted. "We've been hearing about it more and more," Marshall says. "The common theme is the Sahara Tent — it's always crowded, it's dark, and people are dancing."

Marshall also says some of the criminals roaming Coachella are scooping up unattended phones and lost ones. "When I really started to dig into it, I noticed that people are really free with their phones and their phablets, the big phones that stick halfway out of your pocket," Marshall says. "They're leaving their phones where people can get to them."

Asked if there were undercover cops or so-called decoys with phones spilling out of their pockets roaming the Sahara Tent this year, he responded, "Let's just say pickpockets are getting caught."

In the case of Henao, cops said that several festivalgoers noticed their iPhones were missing and were able to track the suspect down at the event, where security held him for officers Friday starting at 5:50 p.m. Inside a backpack he was carrying were more than 100 iPhones, some of which were handed over to victims that evening, police said.

The rest of the phones were turned over to workers at Coachella's lost-and-found tent. (Marshall stressed that Indio police do not have possession of lost or stolen phones; victims, who've been calling the department incessantly, should head to the lost-and-found tent.)

Officers advised festivalgoers to keep their phones in their front pockets and to even consider carrying a "dummy wallet" or even a "dummy old phone" at Coachella (perhaps they're confusing this month's attendees with those of Desert Trip, aka Oldchella).

"Most thieves will not look for another [wallet or phone] once they have found the first one," according to an Indio police statement.


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