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.
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."
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