A stolen car, a wanted woman, and her diary detailing “what I stole today” has led SPD’s Major Crimes Task Force to unravel a prolific crime ring, which detectives believe is responsible for hundreds of break-ins, car prowls, thefts and identity fraud in North Seattle.
In all, police arrested four suspects and seized hundreds of pieces of stolen mail, IDs, and boxes of packages, stolen right off of victims’ porches, with one of the suspects telling police that unwrapping stolen packages was “like opening Christmas presents.”
Detectives got their first major break in the case on September 11th when Seattle police and Department of Corrections officers went to a University District townhouse near NE 50th Street and 11th Avenue NE to arrest a 26-year-old woman wanted on a felony warrant. After officers took the woman into custody, they discovered a stolen car parked outside the two-bedroom townhome. Officers called detectives in SPD’s Major Crimes Task Force—who had been working a complex auto theft case around the city—to come to the townhouse and interview the woman. Detectives found a trove of around 100 stolen packages when they arrived, containing everything from ceiling fans to strollers, all in their original packaging. “When we left her house,” says MCTF Det. Todd Jakobsen “we had four SUVs and two cars stuffed full of packages she’d stolen off people’s porches.”
Detectives found duffel bags filled with stolen mail, more than 70 IDs, credit cards and passports, $37,000 in fraudulent checks, and mail stolen from at least 180 victims. They also found books and ledgers tracking thefts and tallying sales on online sites, as well as pages and pages of victims’ birthdates, social security numbers and credit card numbers. Detectives say the woman had created “profiles,” compiling personal information from pieces of stolen mail. With that info in hand, she and other thieves had everything they needed to open credit accounts in their victims’ names.
Police later learned the townhome, much like the mail and stolen items inside it, did not belong to the woman either. “She never even rented this place,” says Major Crimes Task Force detective Todd Jakobsen. “The people that lived there moved out and she just moved in. She never paid rent.”
Detectives say the 26-year-old woman and her 34-year-old boyfriend been burglarizing and stealing from victims all over the University District and Greenlake. She said they had been working with a 31-year-old-woman she’d met in prison and another man, who she described as the ringleader of the group of thieves, although she claimed to only know by his nickname. The group, the woman said, had made crime a full-time job, stealing mail or breaking into homes seven days a week over the last two or three months.
After arresting the 34-year-old boyfriend for auto and mail theft, detectives began searching for the other two accomplices.
Four days later, police found the third member of the crew of thieves—the 31-year-old woman—in a tent at an encampment along Interstate 5 near NE 50th St., about half a mile from the University District townhome.
In the encampment, police found more stolen mail and about 200 pounds of copper wire, which police believe was stolen from the Museum of History and Industry’s Montlake building after the museum relocated in 2013.
After searching through the encampment and arresting the 31-year-old woman, detectives had tracked down three of the four members of the theft ring, but were still searching for their alleged ringleader.
Police finally got their man on September 22nd after West Precinct patrol officers pulled over a 25-year-old man in a stolen car near 6th Ave and Weller St. in the International District. Once again, patrol officers called MCTF detectives to come check out the stolen car and talk to the driver, who just so happened to have a name closely matching the nickname of the alleged theft and fraud ringleader.
The man in the stolen car was elusive during an interview with detectives—“things just weren’t adding up with what he was saying” Det. Jakobsen says—and police quickly discovered he was wanted for more than a dozen cases of auto theft and fraud in Pierce County. When police searched the suspect’s stolen car, they found documents and evidence connected to several cases of bank fraud in Seattle.
With the evidence found in the 25-year-old man’s car and information they’d received from other suspects about their ringleader, detectives were now certain they had found the man leading the North Seattle crime ring. “Once I started interviewing him everything started falling into place,” Det. Jakobsen says.
Detectives arrested the man and turned him over to authorities in Pierce County, and the MCTF is now working with Pierce and King County officials to bring charges against the man. Police are also investigating him in connection with a number of recent burglaries along the University of Washington’s Greek Row.
“These arrests should drastically reduce property crimes” in the North Precinct, says Coordinated Criminal Investigations Captain Eric Sano.
Detectives are still combing through all of the stolen items recovered during their investigation, and will also look at where the suspects were selling their stolen items, and whether they were trading pieces of stolen mail with other criminals.