A rash of burglaries in California that started with break-ins of homes of Los Angeles Times subscribers who were on vacation has now spread to the Bay Area under similar circumstances.
In the latest home burglaries of newspaper subscribers, police determined houses of Contra Costa Times customers were broken into using a list of customers who put a vacation hold on their paper, the Bay Area newspaper reported Monday.
It’s unclear whether the two burglary cases are connected.
The Walnut Creek Police Department found the list inside a car that was stolen from a Walnut Creek home. It’s unclear whether a Contra Costa Times employee provided the paper with the list or if the burglars uncovered it by hacking into the paper’s computer system.
The Bay Area burglaries connected to Contra Costa Times subscribers may have started about three months ago, with the thieves using the vacation hold list to carry out the crimes, Walnut Creek Police Department Lt. Steve Gorski told the paper.
Meanwhile, the Contra Costa Times is conducting an internal investigation.
“We want to find out what happened,” said David Rounds, vice president of circulation for the Bay Area News Group, the company that owns the paper.
The executive said the company’s records have been modified so that the lists will not indicate whether the customer has a temporary hold on their subscription or if they are on vacation.
Two men were arrested late last month in nearby Livermore, Calif., in connection with the burglaries. Shortly before they were arrested, they were driving in the stolen car and attempted to steal a second vehicle from a home that was on the paper’s vacation hold list, Gorski told the Times.
The Contra Costa Times burglaries were made public less than a week after the Los Angeles Times reported similar break-ins in which the thieves used vacation hold lists to perpetrate the crimes.
About $1 million worth of property was taken over three years in the thefts in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, the L.A. Times reported. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department identified 25 burglary victims, but that number may be as high as 100.
"They took everything from televisions right down to the toothpaste,” said Sgt. Michael Maher of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Major Crimes Bureau.
Only about $100,000 worth of property was recovered from the burglaries, Maher told the paper.
Four men have been charged in connection with the newspaper subscriber burglaries, including 51-year-old Duane Van Tuinen, who authorities believe supplied the addresses of L.A. Times customers on vacation to the burglars.
L.A. Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said the paper has made changes following the burglaries after an internal investigation.
"The Los Angeles Times was contacted several months ago about criminal activity which may have been linked to subscriber delivery information. We immediately launched an internal review and collaborated with the Sheriff's Department as matters unfolded, including honoring their request to keep the matter confidential because the investigation was active," she said. "The Times sympathizes with those who have been harmed and joins the other victims in thanking the Sheriff's Department for their hard work."