Palo Alto police knew about the link to a U-Haul rental van and obtained rental records for the van, rented from the Amigo Market in East Palo Alto last summer, police Chief Lynne Johnson said Monday.
The Weekly reported March 7 that a young couple driving a U-Haul van was arrested in late June for using traveler's checks stolen from the Children's Theatre in mid-June.
In August, a man who rented a U-Haul van, also from the now-closed Amigo Market, reported discovering traveler's checks in the back.
The market's owner, Ghalib Younef, and a corporate U-Haul spokeswoman Joanne Fried told the Weekly they had not talked to police. Johnson, the sole spokesperson for the case, was out of town last week and could not be reached.
On Monday, Johnson said officers obtained rental records from the San Carlos Police Department and questioned Abraham Torres and Maria Diaz, the couple arrested for using the traveler's checks.
"They didn't provide much information," Johnson said. Torres told the San Carlos police he found the checks in a trash can outside a gas station in East Palo Alto.
Palo Alto police also questioned the man who reported discovering $2,200 of theater traveler's checks in the back of a U-Haul van in August.
"He was not involved in the burglary. He was just renting a truck," Johnson said.
And it was the same van, Johnson said. Despite the San Carlos police search of the van, and more than a month of elapsed time, the $2,200 of checks remained in the truck.
The San Carlos police "didn't do a thorough and complete search," Johnson said.
The U-Haul van lead is not the department's current focus, Johnson said.
"We have moved on to more pressing things in the investigation," she said.
Police recently re-interviewed theater Director Pat Briggs, Johnson said. Briggs was initially interviewed on Jan. 25, the day after she and three other staff members were placed on paid leave.
Johnson said police plan to interview Costume Supervisor Alison Williams and Program Assistant Rich Curtis, two other staff members placed on leave, Johnson said.
The investigation began in June following thefts from the theater. Assistant Director Michael Litfin, who was undergoing tratment for cancer, was also placed on leave, but died just over a week later.
Johnson said police are working with the staff members' attorneys and also trying to schedule interviews with several current and former board members of the Friends of the Children's Theatre, the nonprofit support group for the theater.
"We just have some process questions (for the board members)," Johnson said.
The Weekly learned from former Arts & Culture Direcotr Leon Kaplan, who supervised the Children's Theatre, that Sgt. Michael Yore, who is supervising the investigation, questioned him in November about the relationship between the Friends and the theater.
Police have also searched seven storage units belonging to both the theater and the Friends.
Asked the role of the Friends, Johnson said: "It's actually possible they could be victims as well."
Johnson said investigators have asked for minutes from Friends' meetings.
The department is still waiting on the receipt of bank records, which can take time to process, Johnson said. Investigators recently issued search warrants for additional bank accounts, she said.
Johnson said she "absolutely" remains confident in Yore's handling of the investigation, which he is working on almost full time.
She said she plans to remain the sole source of public information about the investigation.
"I'm trying to give you as much information as I can," Johnson said.
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