Woman pleads not guilty in package thefts

NEWPORT BEACH — A 42-year-old woman suspected of stealing packages from the front doorsteps of homes pleaded not guilty Tuesday evening.

Melanie Kathleen Astin, of Newport Beach, was arrested Dec. 23 after someone recognized her in surveillance images and contacted authorities, Newport Beach police said.

Astin faces charges including three felony counts of grand theft, one felony count of receiving stolen property, one felony count of possession of a controlled substance and 11 misdemeanor counts of fraudulently obtaining personal identification from another by mail theft, according to Orange County Superior Court records.

In the days leading up to Christmas, several packages left by UPS or FedEx delivery trucks were stolen from people's porches throughout Newport Beach neighborhoods.

One resident who has a security camera over the front door scanned their surveillance video, which showed a woman walking up to the door and taking a package that had just been delivered.

After taking the package, the suspect left behind an empty box in its place.

Authorities said Astin is the prime suspect. They said she had a system where she would follow delivery trucks around, and right after a package was dropped off, she would pick it up and leave an empty box in its place.

Police said they caught Astin following a delivery truck on El Modena Avenue when they made the arrest.

Detectives say a search of her vehicle revealed some of the missing packages.

Some of those packages were returned to their rightful owners on Christmas Eve, and police said they're working on returning the remaining packages.

Astin is suspected of hitting up 10 to 20 houses in Newport Beach. She remains in custody on $75,000 bail.

To avoid becoming a victim, experts suggest contacting UPS or family members to see when your package might arrive. If you're shipping packages, you may also want to spend a little bit more and add delivery confirmation or insurance to ensure a safe delivery.

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