Thieves follow, rob Apple Store customers

Thieves have been taking a big bite out of Apple Store customers by snatching 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 of thieves breaking into vehicles and stealing computers from customers who had visited Apple stores.

Manhattan Beach Police Sgt. Brian Brown said Tuesday that detectives were continuing their investigation into 15 similar cases since September. The laptop and desktop computers were stolen from the vehicles of customers who had visited the Apple Store on Sepulveda Boulevard.

The suspects stake out an Apple store and choose a customer as their target, according to police.

They follow the victim as he or she drives away from the store. If the consumer stops and leaves the vehicle without taking the computer, the thieves strike.

Manhattan Beach police have warned consumers not to leave valuables in their vehicles in plain view.

“It’s a highly preventable crime if people don’t leave computers in their cars,” Brown said.

Authorities suspect the follow-away burglaries are the work of a larger ring that has stolen 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 Department spokesman Jim Amormino.

The suspects who were charged in the Orange County cases were caught when they allegedly tried to break into a car containing a computer purchased by an undercover police officer at the Apple Store in Mission Viejo. None of the stolen computers have been recovered by Orange County authorities, which suggests that “they are being shipped out of the country or fenced right away,” Amormino said.