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More than 100 Apple Store customers are victims of follow-away burglaries in L.A. region

January 7, 2010 |  6:50 am

A group of thieves has been taking a big bite out of Apple Store customers by purloining computers in more than 100 "follow away" burglaries across the region, authorities said.

Last month, the Orange County district attorney's office charged three Los Angeles residents -- Garzon Diaz, Louis Lopez and John Rodriguez -- with burglary and grand theft in connection with 28 cases in which thieves broke into vehicles and stole computers from customers who had visited Apple retail stores.

Manhattan Beach Police Sgt. Brian Brown said Tuesday that detectives were continuing their investigation into 15 similar cases since September in which laptops and desktop computers were stolen from vehicles of customers of the Apple Store at the Village Mall on Sepulveda Boulevard.

The suspects sought by Manhattan Beach police had a specific method of operation, Brown said. They stake out an Apple store and choose their target. Then they follow their prospective victims when they drive to another shop or a parking spot near their home. If computers are left unattended inside the vehicle, the thieves strike.

His department issued a warning to consumers Tuesday not to leave computers or other expensive items in their vehicles in plain view.

"It's a highly preventable crime if people don't leave computers in their cars," Brown said.

But law enforcement officials said despite the arrests in Orange County, they believe these follow-away burglaries are the work of a larger ring that has taken more than 100 computers in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.

"We are looking into whether all cases are connected to the same crime ring," said Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino.

The suspects who were charged in the Orange County cases were caught when they tried to break into a car with a computer purchased by an undercover police officer at the Apple Store at the Shops at Mission Viejo. The cases in that series of crimes began in December 2008.

None of the computers have been recovered by Orange County authorities, suggesting "they are being shipped out of the country or fenced right away," Amormino said. 

Amormino said he had heard of similar cases in Los Angeles County including Glendale and in Ventura County, and said investigators were comparing notes.

He said law enforcement officials from around the region would be meeting "to compare notes about the possibility they are dealing with a larger ring."

-- Andrew Blankstein

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