SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Investigators with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office said they have broken up an international fencing operation that was allegedly shipping stolen goods ripped off in vehicle burglaries across the Bay Area to buyers as far away as Vietnam.
District Attorney Chesa Boudin said his investigators used secret tracking devices stashed inside laptops and other electronic devices that were left in plain view inside bait cars.
The stolen items then lead them to the operation's alleged mastermind Quoc Le, who was being held on multiple felony and misdemeanor possession of stolen property charges.
"I commend our special investigations team that worked tirelessly for over a year to set up multiple sting operations to track the path of stolen goods, resulting in today's arrest and the recovery of over 130 file boxes full of stolen electronic devices," Boudin said. "We hope that this sends a strong message to deter anyone considering breaking into a car or buying stolen goods: we are watching, and you will be held accountable.
To respond to a surge in auto burglaries in San Francisco, crimes which happen fast and rarely result in arrests, Boudin's investigators set up locked bait cars with bags left in plain view that contained high value electronics secretly equipped with a tracking device.
When an auto burglary was committed on a bait car, they were able to track the suspects and the electronic goods to the location where the burglars would sell the stolen goods.
The investigators were able to track a stolen laptop from one of the bait cars to Le, who took possession of it in a parking lot.
Using the tracker, investigators then followed the item back to Le's business establishment, a boba tea shop. Over the following days, they followed the stolen goods from Le's establishment to FedEx and tracked it through the delivery process.
Following the initial success of the operation, a San Francisco Superior Court judge granted a search warrant to track Le's car and granted 17 additional warrants for cell phone, shipping and other business records.
During the investigation, the team was able to establish a pattern of Le buying and selling stolen goods from all over the Bay Area out of his business. His operation involved shipping stolen goods to Southern California and internationally to countries like Vietnam and Hong Kong.
Inspectors also used information obtained from two victims who had their electronic devices stolen and who were able to track their own devices to Le's business using the "find my device" feature. These victims had their goods stolen in San Francisco and from a parked car in Morgan Hill.
"The fact that a victim from as far away as Morgan Hill tracked her goods stolen to Mr. Le's business, along with other confidential information we have obtained, reveals that Mr. Le's illegal fencing operation not only moves a large volume of stolen goods, but is geographically widespread," said Chief of District Attorney Investigators Steven Tull.
As of Monday, the District Attorney's Office said it had recovered electronics that filled over 130 file boxes -- laptop computers, cell phones, tablets and more. In addition to the estimated 1,000 electronic items recovered, $13,000 in cash was also recovered during the arrest.
The District Attorney's Office is working to identify the original owners of devices recovered. If you were the victim of property crime in San Francisco please go to www.sfdistrictattorney.org/auto-pilot and fill out the form with your information for cross referencing with the devices recovered.
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