It all started with a call of a suicidal woman in Monrovia.
But when cops arrived, instead of a basket case, they found "a large cache of cameras and other electronics," according to Monrovia police. That led them to sniff around and obtain search warrants that included a storage facility cops say was stuffed with stolen goods. Ultimately authorities claim to have recovered $1 million worth of hot items from around L.A:
The case, authorities say, involves a burglary ring that used the Los Angeles Times' "Hold Delivery While On Vacation" subscriber list. Oops:
Cops say the burglars were hitting homes where they knew folks weren't around.
According to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, 51-year-old Azusa resident Duane Van Tuinen was at the center of the ring.
He was an office machine repairman who worked as a contractor at the Times and used his entree to steal the vacation list, deputies said.
Van Tuinen then allegedly shared the list with 43-year-old Randall Whitmore of La Verne, 43-year-old Joshua Box of Arcadia, and 52-year-old Edwin Valentine of Covina, cops said.
The ring hit more than 25 residences on the list in communities such as Hacienda Heights, Diamond Bar, Walnut and Chino Hills and then shared the goods with Van Tuinen, deputies said.
The goods include "collectible coins, musical instruments, collectible swords, computers and jewelry" recovered from cars, homes and a storage locker, according to a sheriff's statement.
The ring racked up a million dollars worth of stuff, Deputy Nicole Nishida told the Weekly. They had been at it since June, she alleged.
The suspects have been arrested but had yet to be charged. Deputies have found many of the victims involved but say there are still outstanding property owners they'd like to hear from. If you think you were ripped off by this ring, call 562-946-7893.
Monrovia police, meanwhile, say so much stolen stuff was found that it couldn't process it all. Here's how that department says the case unraveled:
On January 18 at 6:21 p.m., a female called to report her daughter was suicidal and had threatened to hang herself. Officers arrived and searched the location for the suicidal subject, but she was not at the home. During the search for the daughter, a large cache of cameras and other electronics was found. A female subject who was at the location was found to have a warrant for receiving stolen property. While she was being taken into custody, the suicidal subject returned home. She was taken to a hospital and held for a 72-hour mental evaluation. Due to the volume of property at the location, a search warrant was obtained. Another male subject who was wanted by the Burbank Police Department for receiving stolen property showed up at the location. He was also arrested. The search warrant for the location was served and resulted in the recovery of a large amount of stolen property taken in burglaries from across the Los Angeles area: Hollywood, Walnut, Chino Hills, and Hacienda Heights.
Subsequent investigation indicated more stolen property was in a storage facility in the name of the female taken into custody days before. The storage facility was located in the city of West Covina and another search warrant was obtained for that location. The second search warrant resulted in the recovery of another large quantity of stolen property. The recovered property was more than what could be processed and contained at the Monrovia Police Department.
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We're going to guess here that the Times will have some 'splainin' to do in terms of how it secures its subscriber data. If any old repairman can come in and palm these lists, it sounds like trouble to us.
Times' communications VP Nancy Sullivan sent us this statement:
Among the crimes committed was the theft of a limited number of Times vacation pack reports utilized by independent distributors to determine which customers wanted their papers saved while away, and delivered at a later date. Our customers can rest assured that no financial information was involved and that these robberies, while terribly unfortunate, are likely limited to a small section of the vast area we cover. We continuously review and upgrade our policies and systems to protect and best serve our customers and have eliminated our vacation pack service to prevent any future concern. For our subscribers who may be travelling and want replicas of their missed newspapers, we have a daily electronic edition available.
The LA Times sympathizes with those who have been harmed and joins the other victims in thanking the Sheriff's Department for their hard work. We are very relieved to know that arrests have been made and will continue to cooperate with the authorities as needed.