As Chesa Boudin's office scrambles to score some public wins ahead of the June recall election, news arrives of a big bust involving a boba tea shop that was being used to traffic good stolen in SF car burglaries, some of which ended up shipped to Hong Kong and Vietnam.
The DA's office has had "Operation Auto Pilot" going on for about a year, aiming to crack down on auto burglaries in San Francisco by prosecuting the criminals who are fencing stolen goods en masse, on behalf of the thieves themselves. A sub-operation, dubbed "Operation Bulldog," honed in on the Quickly boba tea shop at 709 Larkin Street, and the husband of its owner, 41-year-old Quoc Le.
Investigators used rental cars, in which they placed theft-worthy items with tracking devices, and parked them as bait cars in Japantown. A laptop stolen from one of the bait cars led them to Le, who they say is a “known fence”for stolen property. “Using the tracker, investigators then followed the item back to Mr. Le’s business establishment, a boba tea shop. Over the following days, they followed the stolen goods from Mr. Le’s establishment to Fed Ex and tracked it through the delivery process,” Boudin’s office explains in a release.
According to court records obtained by the Chronicle, one theft victim who participated in the investigation used the "Find my Phone" feature to locate her stolen iPhone in a vacant space on Larkin Street that shares a wall with the Quickly shop. She later watched the phone move to a FedEx distribution facility in Oakland, and then it was soon in Hong Kong. Another victim watched her laptop ping from the Larkin address, and then a month later it was pinging in Vietnam.
“Car break-ins have been a longstanding problem in San Francisco for at least the past decade; I created Operation Auto Pilot to take aggressive action against the fencing networks responsible for so much property crime,” Boudin says in a statement. “I commend our Special Investigations team that worked tirelessly for over a year to set up multiple sting operations to track the path of stolen goods, resulting in today’s arrest and the recovery of over 130 file boxes full of stolen electronic devices. We hope that this sends a strong message to deter anyone considering breaking into a car or buying stolen goods: we are watching, and you will be held accountable.”
Mr. Le was arrested Monday, and from the storage facility next to the boba shop investigators reportedly recovered over 1,000 "electronics that filled over 130 file boxes: laptop computers, cell phones, tablets, and more." The DA's Office now intends to return these devices to their owners.
Le has been charged with eight felony counts and four misdemeanor counts of possession of stolen property, and it sounds like more charges could be pending. He was expected to be arraigned today. Le's wife, the owner of record on the Quickly location, has not been charged with any crime.
A separate operation by DA's office investigators yielded a similar result in December, with the bust of a camera repair and resell shop on Larkin Street in Little Saigon that was found to be a front for the reselling of stolen clothing.
The Chronicle notes the serendipity of this investigation bearing fruit not long after former assistant DA Shirin Oloumi has been appearing in TV ads supporting the recall of Boudin. Oloumi, who prosecuted car break-ins, says in the ads that Boudin "dissolved" her unit, and "prevented me from collaborating with the police." But staffers at the DA's office shared a farewell letter Oloumi wrote to coworkers with the Chronicle which apparently touted Operation Auto Pilot and said, "no doubt I will be reading about the success of [the operation] in the news soon."
Hopefully, Le will prove to have been a significant kingpin in Bay Area fencing, and someone won't immediately move in to fill the void in buying this stuff from thieves.
Steven Tull, the Chief of Investigators for Boudin's office, points to the fact that one of the victims had a device stolen out of a parked car in the far South Bay, in Morgan Hill. "The fact that a victim from as far away as Morgan Hill tracked her goods stolen to Mr. Le’s business, along with other confidential information we have obtained, reveals that Mr. Le’s illegal fencing operation not only moves a large volume of stolen goods, but is geographically widespread," Tull said in a statement.