It started as the routine recovery of a stolen truck, but when police stepped into the back yard of the house in Canoga Park, they found a garage stockpiled with lawn mowers, edgers and other equipment believed to be stolen from landscapers.
On Friday, as they were still sorting through all the equipment, detectives said they had broken up a ring they believed preyed on professional landscapers by following them home from jobs and stealing their trucks and equipment as they slept. Police called it a particularly cruel property crime.
"This kind of crime wipes them out," Detective Robert Graybill said of the victimized landscapers. "Most of the people who do this for a living are not high-income people. They are out every day working from dawn to dusk. And this totally destroys them. They can't get jobs without equipment."
No arrests were made but police said they had identified three suspects Friday.
Police credited a landscaper who spent 15 hours looking for his stolen truck and by chance came across it late Thursday.
Antonio Olmos, 36, of Van Nuys woke up Thursday and found his Toyota pickup, along with the equipment he used for his landscaping business, missing from his driveway, according to police. He reported the theft, but with no way of working, he joined the search for his property.
"This was his entire business and livelihood taken from him," Graybill said. "He went looking for it all day long."
About 10:30 p.m. Olmos drove down the 6900 block of Alabama Avenue and saw his truck parked next to a house, Graybill said. He called police, but when a patrol car turned on to the street, three men ran from the house and got away.
Auto theft detectives found the pickup had been partially stripped of parts. Graybill said he thought he might find a "chop shop"--a stolen vehicle stripping operation--in the back-yard garage, but instead found lawn maintenance equipment.
Graybill said there were 29 major pieces of equipment valued at more than $20,000 and several smaller items. He said investigators believe the suspects were preying on landscapers, probably following them home from jobs.