News

EPA man admits role in June Children's Theatre burglary

Palo Alto detectives withhold news for more than a month, after interviewing jailed suspect two weeks after Weekly story

For more than a month, Palo Alto police have known that 20-year-old Abraham Esquivias Torres "readily admitted" he broke into the Palo Alto Children's Theatre last June and stole traveler's checks, money and equipment.

Detectives knew others were involved.

Yet that information wasn't made public until after 6 p.m. Tuesday when the department finally issued a press release.

"No one's trying to hide anything," Acting Lt. Sandra Brown said Tuesday evening when asked about the delay. Brown, the department's media spokeswoman, said she only learned about Torres' admission a few days earlier and that she and detectives on the case were both very busy.

On March 7, the Weekly reported that Torres' had been arrested in San Carlos on Saturday, June 23, 2007, for trying to cash traveler's checks apparently stolen from the Children's Theatre in a burglary the prior weekend. The Weekly March 7 story disclosed Torres was back in jail after being out on bail since shortly after the burglary.

On March 10, Police Chief Lynne Johnson said Torres "didn't provide much information."

"We have moved on to more pressing things in the investigation rather than that," she told the Weekly.

On March 19, Palo Alto detectives interviewed Torres at San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City, where he was incarcerated on other charges, and he began to provide information.

During the interview, Torres "readily admitted" participating in the burglary, Brown wrote in the release.

Brown said police tried to contact Torres, who lives in East Palo Alto, shortly after his June arrest — when San Carlos police found him and a girlfriend sitting in a U-Haul van in a parking lot near stores where they had cashed or tried to cash the checks. But Palo Alto detectives couldn't find Torres after he was released from jail, she said.

Brown said that in March officers had learned that Torres was incarcerated and went to interview him. She said she didn't think detectives had gotten the information from the Weekly story.

"I doubt that they're reading your papers," she said of detectives working on the case.

She said other people were involved in the burglary, although police do not think the woman arrested with Torres in San Carlos, Maria de Jesus Diaz, 20, of Menlo Park, took part, Brown said.

Police are now investigating who helped Torres with the burglary, Brown said.

Torres initially told San Carlos police he found the checks in a trash container at the Chevron station at University Avenue at Highway 101 in East Palo Alto. But on March 19 he admitted taking the checks from the theater and said he shoved some checks between the seats of the truck, where they were not found during a search by San Carlos police.

Torres was arrested with $1,450 in traveler's checks, Brown said. He is believed to have stashed another $2,200 in checks in the van, which was rented from Amigo Market in East Palo Alto, since closed and out of the U-Haul business. Its owner told the Weekly in early March that he had never been interviewed by police about the van.

The extra checks were discovered in August by a man who had rented the van.

Brown said she thinks burglars pried open the front door to the 1305 Middlefield Road theater and "tampered with" its alarm. Burglars also "rummaged through" several rooms, she said.

Only $500 in traveler's checks, a printer, $250 in cash and coins were initially reported missing.

About $3,600 in traveler's checks were later discovered missing, however.

Brown said she doesn't "have any indication" the van was used in the mid-June theater burglary.

Brown said Torres will be charged with burglary by Santa Clara County after he serves his sentence in San Mateo County Jail — where he is charged with violating probation, driving with a suspended license, commercial burglary, fraud and identity theft, driving while intoxicated and providing false information to police.

As summer turned to fall theater staff continued to find additional items missing. More than 50 items were ultimately found missing, including cameras, office equipment and four multi-media projectors worth $17,000, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

Torres also admitted taking a boom-box, Brown said.

The traveler's checks were made out to theater Director Pat Briggs and Program Assistant Richard Curtis, she said — the first report that Curtis's name was on some checks. Sources have said that the checks were used when young actors were taken to see out-of-town performances or to perform.

The burglary alerted police to suspected "financial crimes" at the theater, Johnson has said. Four of the theater's six staff members — Briggs, Curtis, the late Assistant Director Michael Litfin and Costume Supervisor Alison Williams — were placed on paid administrative leave Jan. 24. Community concern about the situation has continued to grow as a separate "administrative investigation" has begun.

Curtis is currently also being investigated for accessing his computer at the theater during the Feb. 17 memorial service for Litfin, who died a week after being placed on leave. He had been under treatment for cancer, but told the Weekly Jan. 25 that while he was deeply angry about the suspensions he was optimistic about his treatment and prognosis. The precise medical cause of death has not been disclosed.

Brown said Det. Michael Yore and other detectives are working on the "big case," the financial crimes investigation, while other detectives are working to find the other suspects in the June burglary.

The Children's Theatre case is quite active now, Brown said.

"Everybody is just working really hard."

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2008 at 2:31 pm

I am glad that more news is coming out, but the whole story still seems poor management at the theatre has a lot to do with it. If there were Thousands of Dollars in travellers cheques and these were not looked after properly and if missing equipment was never really discovered until months later and then in drips and drabs, then the directors if nothing else were slack on their management skills.

Please continue to investigate and to let us know what is discovered.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 23, 2008 at 4:48 pm

I've now read yesterday's story three times and about all I can glean from it is that the police just now are telling us that they've known for awhile that this guy confessed to the burglary and that they are still investigating others who may have been his accomplices. Is that it, in a nutshell? And they've known who these alleged accomplices were since this guy was originally busted by the San Carlos police, right? So, when you boil it down, remove all the parts of the article that consist of old, rehashed information, there really isn't much new news there. Or am I missing something? The past few press releases have followed the same pattern, mostly rehash, little new, and only focused on the burglary aspect of it. What about all the other alleged "crimes"?

Keep digging for that pony (or unicorn), PAPD!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 23, 2008 at 5:06 pm

An incredible length of time has passed and the Theater people's lives have been trashed by this unbelievable investigation. Shouldn't there be some time limit on this stuff? The Police Dept. should have to put up or shut up.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Troy
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 23, 2008 at 8:24 pm

Hey Trudy, do you know so much about this investigation that you can publicly label it as being "unbelievable." Do you know anything about the complexities of a financial investigation? If not, let the professionals do their job and respect the process. This isn't TV or the movies where the story plays out in the confines of a one hour episode. These matters are complicated. I too appreciate the Children's Theater. Enough so that I'm glad our police department is being thorous and not rushing to judgment, or reacting solely on emotion like yourself.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 24, 2008 at 8:53 am

Great story in the Daily today about Detective Mike Yore. Apparently, eight years ago he threatened to tie a suspect to a billboard and call a rival gang member. More recently, he botched a suicide investigation, and got the DA to believe it was a murder. These are the guys we pay to investigate the Children's Theatre? And we're supposed to trust them to handle a complex financial investigation???


 +   Like this comment
Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2008 at 10:21 am

Daniel:

Got any other choice?? It is palo alto...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ted
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 24, 2008 at 10:26 am

I hope the city of Palo Alto has enough baskets to hold all the heads that, I hope, will roll over this starting with Chief Johnson whose leadership has been pathetic.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by longtime observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2008 at 12:16 pm

I am really afraid to drive now through Palo Alto, what if I get pulled over by Sgt Yore?

On another note, I see the PAPD leads off the Palo Alto Childrens Parade, right in front of the clown.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 24, 2008 at 2:35 pm

I, for one, am tired of hearing the same old refrain, for months on end, about how we have to let the PAPD have more time. It's going on a YEAR since the burglary (hardly the crime of the century, and it was the San Carlos police who broke that case anyway, not the PAPD). It's been many months since highly respected people with long standing contributions to the community were put on admin. leave, left under a cloud of suspicion, their lives put on hold and their civil liberties restricted. I have never in my life (and I'm going on 70) seen such a fiasco as this case.

Palo Alto certainly doesn't hesitate to hire consultants for everything under the sun. If this supposedly complicated financial case is just too much for the PAPD to handle in a TIMELY MANNER then why can't they bring in some outside help to perform the forensic accounting?

I wonder at what hidden agenda(s) are at work: Are the police just incompetent? Do they realize that they lack sufficient evidence but are in too deep to admit failure to the community (can't stand the egg on their faces)? Or have there been behind-the-scenes "irregularities" in the investigation that dare not come out? Is it all just politics?

To those who persist in endlessly begging for more time, those who have more sympathy for the bumbling PAPD than for the community at large and those suffering on admin. leave, I ask: JUST HOW LONG ARE WE TO WAIT? Until the statute of limitations runs out? Until all the key people are dead of old age? Until Benest leaves town? Until Hell freezes over? I ask you: just what IS the point at which it becomes proper to question the actions of the PAPD and to demand a resolution? The answer, according to these people, appears to be, "never", and that is unacceptable.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Vic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2008 at 5:41 pm

Litebug,

The only tired refrain going on here is your unwarranted, unqualified criticism of the PAPD. You refer to the Children's Theater staff as "highly respected" people who have made "longstanding contributions" to the community, but yet extend absolutely no respect to the men and women of the police department. Your dismissal of the contributions that law enforcement officers make every day is truly sad. Their contributions, many of which critics like you would never dream of undertaking, certainly are deserving of respect.

The concerns you express, and cheapshots you take at the PAPD and city leaders are filled with nothing more than specultaion and conspiracy theories. You are frustrated over the timeline of the investigation, but yet you know nothing about the details of the case. You question a timely resolution, but I doubt you possess any experience with financial investigations. Please spare us your armchair expertise and factless emotional response. Real life isn't one of the TV programs you watch where everything is wrapped us in the confines of a one hour episode. To suggest anything else makes you sound uninformed and feeble.

I, for one, prefer to let common sense and reason dictate my response to this difficult matter. Let the professionals, who possess the facts of the case, conduct their investigation. I want the PAPD to conduct a thorough investigation and not rush to judgment. I want them to respect the process and privacy of those people involved and not release information prematurely.

We all hope for a fair and justified resolution, especially for those accused. I extend my respect. Let's just not forget to respect everyone involved in what certainly must be a complex matter.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 24, 2008 at 8:46 pm

Vic, I've heard it all before, including the personal insults, although no one has EVER called me feeble and, if you knew and SAW me, you would certainly not say that to my face! You might be VERY surprised. You are obviously laboring under a lot of pre-conceived, false and biased notions about older people. If I hadn't stated my age, what would you have used for your nasty little jab? Your cowardly insult merely illustrates your bias and ignorance and has nothing whatsoever to do with who or what I am. You know NOTHING about me, sir. But, of course, YOU never speculate, right? Riiiiiiight.

I mostly posed questions, if you bothered to notice. I believe I have as much right to an opinion, speculation or questions as you or anyone else. Why aren't you attacking all the other people who have voiced similar opinions of the performance of the PAPD during the course of this case? I am not the only one by a long shot. You don't intimidate me one bit, despite your best efforts.

It's just the same old tired blah, blah, blah we've heard a so many times before from the knee-jerk PAPD apologists. Keep yammering away and insulting people who disagree with you, it doesn't change my mind about anything. btw...I watch relatively little TV, you patronizing (self-censored noun...fill in the blank).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kevin
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 24, 2008 at 8:59 pm

Vic,

Yours is a truly high quality post. Good job.

Ignore "litebug". He is full of himself.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Litebug Don't Move!
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 24, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Hi Litebug, pls. read the comments on this online forum from last night about the new buildings. Pls. don't move away :)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Vic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2008 at 9:38 pm

Please, Litebug, don't take it personal, and if I may, you really shouldn't keep clouding the issues with your emotions. You have more than established your lack of fairness and objectivity in your previous posts. You have set the standard with your unqualified cheap shots against the police department with suggestions of them "bumbling" or being incompetent. You raised questions on a public forum. I simply ask for the basis of your argument. Please share with us how you've come to these conclusions. What facts or expertise do you possess that the rest of us do not. I ask with an open mind, again, extending respect to everyone involved.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:04 pm

First, prove to me that I am the only one guilty of these various "sins", for I do not believe that I am. I've been reading these threads too, you know. I'm not the only one critical of the PAPD's conduct of this case nor am I the only one to have speculated in public (but always with my clothes on, I assure you).

I might also point out that there have been quite vicious attacks against some of the PACT people and their supporters, and every bit as much speculation. I don't recall your taking them to task, but correct me if I'm wrong. (In an effort to head off the next charge I suppose at this point I must emphasize that I have no connection whatsoever to the PACT nor to anyone associated with it in any way. I don't even know anyone associated with it and the closest I've come to PACT is to have attended a few productions there.)

Why am I being asked to provide facts and expertise when no one else is being required to do so? I'm thinking, for just one example, of one person who has insisted on having insider knowledge about the whole affair. I make no such claim. I am not pretending to be a journalist writing an objective, sourced document nor am I testifying in a court of law. I'm expressing opinion in a blog, that's all. Big deal! I don't believe there are any pre-qualifications for that. Or do I need a resume? I have always plainly and carefully identified my remarks as being merely personal opinion.

What facts or expertise do you possess, I might fairly ask? Could it not be said that you are guilty of the same sins as I, just that you are coming from the opposite direction? Are you not speculating that everything is honest, apolitical, above-board, competent and efficient about the case? What do you offer for fact?

Lastly, I'll thank you kindly to stop telling me how to be and how to act and what to say or not, and to stop inserting your little put-downs about emotion, age, or whatever comes handy. You are not my father!

Now, the final question is this: is litebug a man, full of himself or an emotional woman????? Ponder that for awhile. Cheery Bye!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Vic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:59 pm

Now we've at least found some common ground, nor have I taken any runs at PACT either. Quite the contrary. I have only asked for patience, based on circumstances that even as casual observors we can agree are at least complicated at best. And I will gladly answer your question, no, I am not an expert in these matters. All the more reason to recognize the need to be patient, allow the professionals who have the facts and expertise to do their jobs, and not condemn those charged with these difficult responsibilities. Again, I will join you in wishing for a just and fair conclusion.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Senor Blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 25, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Vic and Litebug,
Will you two children stop squabbling. You're taking up server space.
SB


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