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LAPD says serial burglar stole from pro soccer players, musicians

October 29, 2009 |  6:42 am

L.A. police detectives said a smooth-talking con artist scout has used an elaborate scheme to steal thousands of dollars in cash and belongings from a salsa band, one of Israel's top basketball teams and Mexico's Chivas soccer team.

Investigators alleged that the man used websites and social media to learn about visiting teams, artists and tourists' movements in downtown Los Angeles, then charmed his way into their private hotel rooms and suites when the visitors were away.

"These out-of-town visitors are often unfamiliar with their surroundings and are often carrying lots of cash," said Los Angeles Police Lt. Paul Vernon. 

That was the case earlier this month at Staples Center. The suspect on Oct. 20 slipped in a Staples Center locker room as the Israeli team played the Los Angeles Clippers and swiped $26,000 in cash and jewelry from 11 players' lockers.

Witnesses told police they remembered seeing the same suspect earlier that day, before the Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv team's game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Vernon said.

"At one point, the man was thrown out for not having proper credentials,'' Vernon said. "Apparently he returned, dressed in a suit, holding a clipboard, and with some kind of credential sticking out of his pocket. A ball boy saw the man in the Israeli team's locker room after the players went on the court, but the ball boy assumed the man worked at Staples."

When detectives examined the surveillance video they noticed a strong resemblance to a man they believe managed to talk his way into a downtown hotel room to burglarize the occupants.

On Aug. 29, salsa musicians were booked to play the Greek Theater. The man with slicked-back hair convinced a desk clerk at the Wilshire Grand Hotel that he was part of the salsa group and needed pass cards to rooms. police said.

"He gives the desk clerk a music CD in thanks for the help. Over $9,000 was later discovered missing from several rooms,'' Vernon said.

On Sept. 22, the same man, wearing a Chivas soccer jersey, greeted and hugged members of the Chivas  team as they left a downtown Marriott hotel on a team bus, according to Vernon.

"He turns, walks up to the desk clerk, and convinces the clerk to give him their room keys,'' Vernon said. "Over $10,000 was later reported missing from the soccer players' rooms.''

Club Deportivo Guadalajara played an exhibition match Sept. 23 at the Rose Bowl against Chivas USA.

The man is still at large.

--Richard Winton