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Police have U-Haul records, but have 'moved on'

Nonprofit Friends of Palo Alto Children's Theatre may be victims, chief says

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.

Thus they had no need to question the market's owner or U-Haul officials, she said.

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.

Archive: Children's Theatre investigation


Like this comment
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2008 at 9:43 am

It sounds to me that the Police Department is doing exactly what we expect them to do.

I don't know Sgt. Michael Yore. But from what I've read, it appears that he's doing exactly what we should demand from a professional in his position. It's offensive to me that others have posted derogatory comments on other forums about him, without knowing him, or having even the slightest understanding of what he's doing.

It's becoming apparent that serious crimes occurred here. Let's let the investigation continue. Let's not make idols out of the suspects while we blindly criticize the people who risk their lives to keep us free.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2008 at 9:50 am

P.S. -- to the critics --

Do you have the guts to write in and admit that you were wrong when the truth comes out?????

Like this comment
Posted by Curious
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2008 at 9:51 am

Jim H,
Just where in this article did you determine "It's becoming apparent that serious crimes occurred here"? Sounds more like the keystone cops to me - no one seems to have any idea what they are looking for! From an unsearched U-Haul to the minutes from a non profit group's meetings? Yeah, sounds like the PAPD is doing exactly what we expect (that's sarcasm, BTW).

Like this comment
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2008 at 10:09 am

Of course they have no idea what they're looking for. That's what a police investigation is for. Crimes were committed and now the Police are looking into them.

It's easy to look back on a situation and say "You should have looked into that U-Haul truck".

But until the pieces come together, you can't say that. Evidence comes together slowly - one piece at at time. And the "professionals" know that - and take one step at a time.

Like this comment
Posted by Just an observer
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 11, 2008 at 10:24 am

So Johnson felt no need to investigate who actually rented the truck or obtain a search warrant of the check cashing couples home? Instead she relied upon "the San Carlos Police records" in the investigation. Wasn't this the same department that when they inspected the theiving couples UHAUL just neglected to find 2200 in travelers checks? HMMM. Guess it was easier to fly Yore out to Texas to investigate old costume sales rather than investigate the actual burglary. Or someone from above wants to shut down the theater and this was the opening salvo.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2008 at 10:42 am

You're spending too much time watching "CSI". Not every crime is solved in an hour. And, a suspicious U-Haul truck - without supporting evedence - isn't reason for search warrants.

"Johnson" - I assume you're referring to our Police Chief Lynn Johnson - what has she done wrong in this? She kept her mouth shut and started a legitimate investigation. Would you want something different if you were being investigated???

Let's give "Lynn" a coule of rounds of applause over how her department has handled this - not just call her "Johnson".

Like this comment
Posted by jim h is smart!
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 11, 2008 at 12:59 pm

you completely right jim... and no joke, they have the "CSI EFFECT" in courtrooms when the jury doesnt trust/believe the evidence is sufficient because they have been so affected by csi and it's "solve the crime in a convenient 60 minutes" that they dont believe you cant ALWAYS get fingerprints off everything. its rediculous!

others: STOP WATCHING CSI --it sucks anyways. watch something like the first 48 if youre that desperate

Like this comment
Posted by To the Jim H fan club
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 11, 2008 at 1:44 pm

What's watching CSI have to do with thorough police work? When a bike was stolen and appeared for sale on Craigslist, a PAPD officer went and staked out the thief's house. Aren't you concerned that some burglary ring cut the wires and broke into the theater, yet the police didn't pursue investigating who rented the truck or search the couples' home for the missing projectors that have been much discussed? Odd, that with these burglars still afoot you seem quite happy with them flying to Texas to interview the previous director about old costume sales, a task that could have been taken care of with a simple phone interview.

Like this comment
Posted by ?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2008 at 3:12 pm

It is amazing to think that there are so many expert detectives out there who know exactly what should be investigated and how in this crime scene investigation. I for one, love reading mysteries and watching crime shows, but I am glad that in this particular case, that the real experts are pounding the pavement and using old fashioned (in more ways than one) detective techniques. Yes, it looks as if the trip to Texas may have proved nothing more than some information on costume sales, but it just might have caught more. Yes, some things seem on the surface to have been overlooked, but with hindsight it is all very easy.

Real detective work is involved here. These detectives have lots of leads, lots of evidence and lots of critics. They will spend many fruitless hours before they find something worth pursuing, and all they get is criticism for the deadends. Give them time, let them do their craft, and then let us see what they produce.

If anyone out there considers they know better, then I expect they are in the wrong career. So, Miss Marple and Poirrot, leave it to the experts.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 11, 2008 at 3:59 pm

To: "To the Jim H. Fan Club"

How did you know any 'wires were cut" at the Children's Theater. I've read every story about this and don't remember that wires were cut. What wires? Where did you read this? Please enlighten me.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2008 at 6:14 pm

Bill - it was in a recent article right here - the article stated that wires to security systems had been cut (sorry - I can't give you a link to that, but it was reported on Palo Alto Online).

Flying to Texas to interview someone?? The detective in question probably didn't fly first-class, sipping champagne and eating lobster. He was probably packed in the back of a crowded airplane wishing he was somewhere else. But he got to observe the body language, the eyes, the attitude -- things that couldn't be seen in a phone interview.

If and when this goes to court, a jury would ask why the investigators used a phone call instead of an in-person interview. That's been taken care of here. The jury won't wonder.

Sometimes, in an investigation like this, it doesn't matter what the outcome of an interview is - it's all another piece in the puzzle. It doesn't imply that someone is guilty. It provides information -- valuable information.

Crimes - especially financial crimes - can be notoriously difficult to solve. It would be nice if the Police could take a DNA swab (like on TV) and find the culprit. But it doesn't work that way. Sometimes, investigators have to "poke" things with sticks, and see what they do. The answers can finally lead to a conclusion.

I stand by my earlier attitude that our Police Department is handling this correctly and professionally. If and when this finally gets to trial, we'll all be glad they were so thorough.

Like this comment
Posted by CSI--Where Are You?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2008 at 10:01 pm

> 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.

Interesting that the articles don't say that the Palo Alto Police have actually recovered these checks. Given that there were checks recovered in San Carlos, and checks actually spent--the number of checks that were available for being so easily stolen is well over $2,200. The Weekly does not seem to want to tell people how big the loss to the Children's Theater actually is.

None of these articles indicate who is responsible when money is stolen, or reported stolen from a Palo Alto government office and there has not been appropriate management of the money. (Meaning has been no mention of a locked money box kept in a safe.) So, is the person whose name was on the checks supposedly asked to pay back the money that has disappeared?

Also--there is no mention of how many checks were in this employee's possession at the time of the theft.

Like this comment
Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2008 at 10:09 pm

I tracked down the comment where it was mentioned that wires had been cut. I remember at the time thinking it odd that this was the first time I'd heard those details. I don't remember reading them in the Weekly. Here it is, from one of the earlier Children's Theatre threads: (Note that there are two threads with the same title. The first one has only a very few comments. This one had 36.)

Details of Children's Theatre thefts disclosed
Crimes & Incidents, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Mar 7, 2008 at 9:06 am
There have been 36 comments on this topic, the most recent on Mar 9, 2008 at 7:03 pm.

"...The theatre has a security alarm system in place, though no cameras, the day the burglary was discovered, it was also discovered that both the security alarm wire and fire alarm wire had been cut. ..."
Posted by RE: take it private, a resident of another community, on Mar 8, 2008 at 4:59 am

Like this comment
Posted by CSI--Where Are You?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2008 at 11:03 pm

> "...The theatre has a security alarm system in place,
> though no cameras, the day the burglary was discovered,
> it was also discovered that both the security alarm wire
> and fire alarm wire had been cut. ..."

This was posted by a contributor to the blog -- but wasn't in any of the articles or police press releases.

Does raise an interesting question however--how is it that a security alarm wire is exposed so that it can be cut? And a fire alarm wire too? Were these wires on the outside of the building, or the inside? Were they cut before the building was entered, or after it was entered? Why cut the fire alarm? Was the Burglar Alarm connected to the Palo Alto police department, or a private concern? Does this kind of alarm show that it's been cut at the monitoring point?

Or maybe the police have not released this information, or maybe they were not cut at all.

Like this comment
Posted by Shelly
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 12, 2008 at 3:55 am

Dear Jim H.

I believe the correct spelling of Johnson's first name is "Lynne". While I'm not on a first name basis with her, I would give her the courtesy of not presuming to be - and would at least spell her name correctly. After all, she's not just any Curly, Moe or Larry.

You seem to know a lot about this case and are a big defender of the police. Instead of refocusing the discussion on details, let's stick to the main issue. This investigation has been going on for ten months. At this point, it's a fishing expedition. Let's call a spade a spade.

Like this comment
Posted by correction
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2008 at 8:15 am

Shelly: i think the" Curly , Moe, and Larry" are "Lynne, Frank and Gary"

Like this comment
Posted by RE: take it private
a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2008 at 2:07 pm

The wires were on the inside of the building, and they were cut, a repair man from the city fixed them the next week.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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