Comments & Curiosities: They're not the brightest crayons in the box…

Sometimes I worry. The crime rate has been dropping lately, and that worries me. If there are fewer crimes, there would be fewer loopy and/or dumb crimes for me to write about, which is not good. But then a gaggle of loopy crime stories comes along and I feel better.

Like now.

First there was Melanie Astin, the Newport Beach woman who was arrested by Newport Beach police Dec. 23 for her allegedly unusual spin on last-minute Christmas shopping. Instead of fighting the crowds at Fashion Island or South Coast Plaza, Astin is suspected of tailing FedEx and UPS trucks on their appointed rounds around Newport Beach. When a driver dropped a box, or two, at the front door, Melanie would allegedly swoop in and borrow them, permanently, according to police.

Police, according to news reports, found a number of items from Santa in her car, just not to her.

It's not the loopiest file in the folder marked "Loopy Crimes/Newport-Mesa," but it ain't bad. How was this supposed to work exactly? These are open, airy Newport Beach neighborhoods in which you have to march up to the front door — not knowing if that door is about to open or not — pick up a box or two, hustle back to your car, check another name off your list, and drive off, except you have no idea if you just got your niece a Prada bag or an ink cartridge for a Canon printer.

Then, just this week, we got to meet the Duncans, Chris and Robin, a young couple from Newport Coast, a beautiful place replete with beautiful homes, one of which, 10 Hidden Pass, was home to the Duncans. But, as sometimes happens, in Newport Coast, M. Night Shyamalan films and life ... things are not always what they seem. No. 10 Hidden Pass was home to the Duncans but it was not their home.

Were they renting it? They were not. Did it belong to a relative? It did not. A friend? No.

According to prosecutors, the Duncans were squatters, who not only moved into the Hidden Pass home illegally but had been living in it for months, the Pilot reported. Apparently, they are not just squatters but serial squatters who had been tracking foreclosures and moving into homes that were standing vacant without actually, well, asking anyone if that would be OK, least of all the owners.

Lenders and police say it is a humongous problem, given the combination of homes that are financially underwater and standing vacant for months a time, which is apparently a little too tempting for people living on the edge. The Duncans were alleged to have changed the locks on their new home — security is important — and to get the power and the gas turned on, they allegedly forged a lease and scammed utility companies.

Too easy. This gives a whole new meaning to dream home. It's 10 o'clock ... do you know who your neighbors are? Are you sure?

If you're not, hopefully it isn't Ryan Matthews, a Jamaican émigré until recently of Laguna Hills, now a guest of the Orange County Jail. Matthews' curriculum vitae is a little spotty, including, as reported in the Orange County Register, allegedly stealing the identity of a felon in Nevada with the fortuitous name of Terrance E. Matthews some 10 years ago.

Ryan Matthews used that name to buy a BMW but couldn't make the payments, which is awkward. Repo man come, take the Beamer away.

Incredibly, Matthews was worried that his "credit" was going to be ruined and called the Orange County Sheriff's Department in February 2009. He filed a complaint as Terrance E. Matthews, claiming that his identity had been stolen by someone who used it to buy a BMW then had the unmitigated gall to default on the loan.

Is nothing sacred? Apparently not. It took the Sheriff's office about 40 minutes to sort everything out and read Matthews his rights. Bad credit was the least of Matthews' problems last week when he was sentenced to nine months in jail and three months probation for grand theft and fraud.

OK, fine, the crime rate is going down. But there's no need to worry. As long as there is free stolen package pick-up and squatters in Newport Coast and con men in Laguna Hills guarding the credit of whoever they're supposed to be, everything will work out. Sort of. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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