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At least 45 Times subscribers claim property stolen by burglary ring

February 6, 2013 | 11:54 am

Photo: Stolen property. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

At least 45 victims of a reputed serial burglary ring that targeted victims with stolen Los Angeles TImes subscriber vacation hold lists have had property returned, authorities said Wednesday.

Investigators with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Major Crimes Bureau said the four men arrested are believed to have burglarized the homes of more than 100 Times subscribers over the last three years and stolen $1 million in property.

The defendants were identified as Duane Van Tuinen, 51, of Azusa, who is believed to have supplied the burglary crew with addresses from stolen vacation lists; Randall Whitmore, 43, of La Verne; Joshua Box, 43, of Arcadia; and Edwin Valentine, 52, of Covina.

[Updated at 12:32 p.m., Feb. 6: Sheriff's officials said Van Tuinen serviced machines in the distribution centers that subcontract with The Times to deliver the paper.]

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. Authorities said the thieves would case the homes of 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.

So far, approximately $100,000 worth of personal property, including artwork, golf clubs and guitars, has been recovered as a result of a six-month investigation, sheriff's officials said. But investigators noted that the thieves stole many more items, including jewelry and collectible coins, that they later sold.

Investigators originally identified 25 victims from the San Gabriel Valley cities of Hacienda Heights, Diamond Bar, Walnut and Chino Hills. Since then, they identified another 20 who reside in Arcadia, Pasadena, Santa Monica and West Covina in Los Angeles County and Redlands and Ontario in San Bernardino County. 

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."

"We continuously review and upgrade our policies and systems to protect and best serve our customers," she added. Sullivan said that the paper no longer shares vacation information with distributors.

Sheriff's officials said 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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Photo: Some of the stolen property recovered during a six-month investigation into a serial burglary ring. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department