Admitted burglar Abraham Esquivias Torres says two young men with punk-style hairdos and dressed like skaters and a young woman with multi-colored hair — apparently familiar with the inside of Palo Alto Children's Theatre — initiated the fateful theater burglary at about 1 a.m. Monday, June 18, the Weekly has learned.
Torres, 21, of East Palo Alto, admitted participating in the burglary during a March 18 interview with the Palo Alto police at the San Mateo County Jail, where he was being held on other charges.
While investigating the burglary, police became suspicious about the theater's finances and launched a probe that motivated City Manager Frank Benest to place four of the theater's six employees on administrative leave Jan. 24.
On Monday (April 28), Torres appeared at the North County Courthouse in Palo Alto where he pleaded "no contest" to felony burglary in a plea-bargain exchange for an anticipated six-month jail sentence for the Children's Theatre burglary, according to District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Amy Cornell. His sentencing is scheduled for June 19, she said.
In a brief interview with the Weekly outside the courtroom, Torres said two men and a woman were involved. He said he used methamphetamine and marijuana last summer but is now trying to change his life.
Torres wore all-white pants, white shoes and a t-shirt that portrayed Jesus. He crossed himself repeatedly while waiting to be called and kissed a bracelet with religious icons.
The Weekly also has obtained a copy of the police report on the March 18 jail interview with Torres, a rich source of additional details on the burglary.
Torres was formerly affiliated with the Norteno gang, according to the police report.
Torres told officers that he and his friend Sergio, also known as "Savage," were smoking marijuana in Rinconada Park around 1 a.m. June 18 when two males approached them and asked if they could buy some pot.
Torres said one man was 24 or 25 years old, white, about 5 feet 10 inches tall with red or blond spiky hair. The other man was shorter than 5 feet 5 inches tall, skinny and had dark hair "short on top and shaved bald on the sides," Det. Aaron Sunseri wrote in the police report.
Both men dressed like "skaters" and one wore Nike gloves, Torres told officers.
The woman, who joined the men in the park later, bringing methamphetamine, had hair dyed many colors with streaks, the report states.
After sharing the pot and the meth, one of the men suggested going to the Children's Theatre, near the park, to "find something to steal" because it was often easy to get into. Torres said he and Sergio rode their bikes to the theater while the others drove a car there.
Torres told police they found a rear door propped open with a garbage can and lights on in the theater. The woman remained outside the theater "as a lookout," while the four men went in.
Torres said the two men didn't seem nervous and told officers he thought that was odd because he was very nervous.
Torres said his friend Sergio came from another part of the theater with a fat envelope, a Sony video camera and a Bose headset and suggested they should leave before the police arrived.
While the two men were still inside the theater, Torres and Sergio rode their bikes back to East Palo Alto, Torres said. Sergio then gave Torres the envelope, which contained traveler's checks made out to theater Director Pat Briggs, the late Assistant Director Michael Litfin and Program Assistant Richard Curtis. Briggs and Curtis, as well as Costume Supervisor Alison Williams, are on paid administrative leave from the city.
Sergio was too scared to use the checks, Torres told officers.
On June 20, Maria de Jesus Diaz, 20, Torres' girlfriend at the time, rented a U-Haul van from the former Amigo Market in East Palo Alto so she and Torres could drive to Redwood City and San Carlos to spend the traveler's checks.
Diaz rented a U-Haul van because she wasn't old enough to rent a car and Torres had a suspended license, he told officers.
Torres and Diaz were arrested June 23, less than a week after the burglary, after trying to cash the traveler's checks in San Carlos and Redwood City. They were arrested with $1,450 in checks and Torres said he stashed another $2,200 of checks in the U-Haul van.
Palo Alto police interviewed Diaz in September, but were unable to find Torres at that time, according to the report.
Det. Sunseri wrote that Sgt. Michael Yore had learned that Torres was back in jail "on or around March 10." A March 7 Weekly article stated that Torres was in Redwood City's Maguire Correctional Facility.
Sunseri and Agent Kara Salazar went to the jail to interview him March 18.
According to the report, Torres initially tried to lie to officers when he was initially questioned. Although Torres' fingerprints hadn't been found at the theater, Sunseri showed Torres a card with Sunseri's own fingerprints and Torres' name written in red ink.
"I intended to use these cards as a prop during my interview with Torres," Sunseri wrote in the report.
Believing that Palo Alto police had traced his fingerprints, Torres admitted he had been lying and said he had stolen a drill, drill bits, a jigsaw and a "boom box" radio and tape/CD player from the theater.
On June 18, the day of the burglary and the day some of the stolen items were discovered missing by theater staff, Briggs told Officer Michael Kan that two days before the burglary the cargo door at the rear of the building had been discovered open. The day before the burglary, theater staff had found one of the stage's trap doors had been tampered with.
As the months passed, theater staff continued to report items missing from the theater, eventually discovering tens of thousands of dollars worth of missing equipment, including several multimedia projectors worth a combined $17,000.
Police Chief Lynne Johnson said the traveler's checks and conflicting statements from theater staff then sparked the still incomplete financial-crimes investigation that led to the paid suspensions of Briggs, Litfin, Williams and Curtis.
Johnson told the Weekly that the theater's burglar-alarm system earlier had been placed on a "do not respond" status because of frequent false alarms that took up patrol-officer time to check out.