If you’ve had a laptop stolen in the last two months, there’s a chance it’s in one of those boxes above, and currently sitting in an evidence storage room at the Fremont Police Department. That’s because more than 2,000 laptops, tablets, and electronic devices were seized when police uncovered a crime ring that was busting into cars, stealing laptops, and shipping the loot off to Vietnam.
The smuggling ring has been operating in every Bay Area county, and specialized in nabbing the electronics by breaking into cars. The Bay Area News Group reports that “the problem had gotten so bad that local repair shops were experiencing a shortage in auto-grade glass to replace broken windows.”
This particular smuggling ring was stealing laptops across San Francisco, the East Bay, and South Bay. While Fremont Police arrested eight San Francisco and San Jose residents, the operation also involved a Santa Clara County District Attorney’s unit, the South Bay’s REACT tech-crime team, and the Department of Homeland Security.
The investigation started when Fremont Police noticed a 36 percent increase in car break-ins last year. The department said in a release that the break-ins were carried out by “street-level criminal suspects, many of them members of validated street gangs,” but a sophisticated smuggling ring intended to ship the gear to Vietnam.
“The whole Bay Area’s been affected by auto burglaries,” Fremont police lieutenant Mike Tegner told the Bay Area News Group. “This [case] was definitely surprising, with how sophisticated and organized it was, and where everything ended up.”
Police moved on San Jose residents Benjamin Pham and Huong Tran when they were trying to fly out of SFO with the stolen items on Jan. 25. “The two suspects had 18 items of luggage containing more than 300 suspected stolen electronic devices,” according to the Fremont PD. “Detectives recovered an additional 700+ items of suspected stolen property and arrested seven additional suspects on the day of the operation at the suspect locations.”
Police estimated the haul to be worth $2 million. The great part is that gear in being returned to its rightful owners.
A KBCW report shows one woman who got her laptop back, and the comments on the Fremont Police Department’s Facebook page are full or remarks like “They found [and] returned my daughters MacBook!,” and “Today, Detective Johnson called me, letting me know my laptop will soon be on its way. It was the brightest point in a dull day!”
Fremont police are currently reuniting the laptops with their owners by using the product serial numbers. They say they’re still making arrests, and ask anyone with information about these cases to call the Fremont Police General Crimes Unit at (510) 790-6900 or use their anonymous tip line.