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Ring accused of burglarizing the homes of Times subscribers

Los Angeles Times subcribers burgarlized

Three men have been arrested on suspicion of burglarizing the homes of Los Angeles Times newspaper subscribers while they were on vacation, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

They allegedly stole $1 million in property over the last three years.

Detectives said one of the suspects obtained lists of subscribers who had submitted “vacation holds” to a vendor that distributes newspapers for The Times. Officials said they have identified 25 victims but believe there are more than 100.

Sgt. Michael Maher of the Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau said most of the break-ins occurred along the 210 Freeway in eastern L.A. County and western San Bernardino County.

Approximately $100,000 worth of personal property, including artwork, golf clubs and guitars, has been recovered as a result of a six-month investigation, Maher said. But investigators believe the thieves  stole many more items including jewelry and collectible coins that they later fenced.

"They took everything from televisions right down to the toothpaste," he added. 

Deputies said Duane Van Tuinen, 51, of Azusa is believed to have supplied the burglary crew with addresses from stolen vacation lists. Sheriff’s officials said he serviced machines in the distribution centers that subcontract with The Times to deliver the paper. He is expected to be arrested Wednesday.

Randall Whitmore, 43, of LaVerne; Joshua Box, 43, of Arcadia; and Edwin Valentine, 52, of Covina have been booked on suspicion of receiving stolen property and possession of stolen property. Deputies are seeking a fifth suspect.

Sheriff's officials said The Times has cooperated fully with the investigation.

Nancy Sullivan, a Times spokeswoman, said the newspaper has made changes in its delivery policies since the incident.

"The Los Angeles Times was contacted several months ago about criminal activity which may have been linked to subscriber delivery information. We immediately launched an internal review and collaborated with the Sheriff’s Department as matters unfolded, including honoring their request to keep the matter confidential because the investigation was active,” Sullivan said. “The Times sympathizes with those who have been harmed and joins the other victims in thanking the Sheriff’s Department for their hard work.”

Sullivan added: "We continuously review and upgrade our policies and systems to protect and best serve our customers."

Authorities said the thieves would case the home of the subscribers who had submitted vacation holds to make sure the owners were away before striking. In some cases, the burglars found the victims' cars keys. They then loaded up the vehicles with stolen items and drove off, Maher said.

Officials said a break in the case came last summer, when Glendora police pulled over one of the suspects who had a list of addresses as well as stolen property. Sheriff’s detectives spent weeks studying the list and eventually determined the addresses belonged to Times subscribers who had stopped delivery while on vacation. Maher said detectives at first probed whether the list was obtained through computer hacking but eventually determine it was an inside job.

Subscribers who believe they were burglarized after placing a vacation hold are asked to call Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau detectives at (562) 946-7893 and supply a police report number as well as a description of the stolen items.

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--Andrew Blankstein

Photo: A pedestrian looks at a Los Angeles Times news rack. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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