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Theft Suspect Described as Gifted Student

Crime: Alleged head of computer burglary ring is remembered at Cleveland High as a born leader.


RESEDA — Most people at Cleveland High School thought of Gabriel Labbad as an intelligent and popular honor student, a student who not only played defensive tackle on the varsity football team, but became editor-in-chief of the school's yearbook on his first try.

Police say Labbad also applied his considerable talents to other uses--allegedly masterminding a burglary ring that more than once raided Harvard-Westlake High School's computer lab and resold the equipment on the black market.

All who have met Labbad agree the Cleveland High graduate, who briefly attended Pierce College before dropping out of sight, is a charming young man with strong leadership skills.

"I thought that Gabriel would be an excellent salesman or politician--he had the ability to succeed in anything he wanted to do and convince people to do what he wanted," said one Cleveland High teacher, who did not want to be identified.

Last month, Los Angeles police charged the 18-year-old Reseda resident with six counts of grand theft and two of solicitation to commit crime in connection with six burglaries last year. But Labbad disappeared before police could arrest him and he remains at large.

All the incidents occurred at the prestigious Harvard-Westlake school in Studio City, where one of Labbad's alleged accomplices was critically shot during an October break-in. According to LAPD reports, Labbad and his ring stole more than $100,000 in top-line computers and laser printers from Harvard-Westlake's computer lab.

Police reports show thousands of dollars worth of computers and office equipment, hundreds of blank credit cards and electronic encoding equipment were found in a search of Labbad's Lanark Street home in November.

Labbad allegedly sold several of the stolen Harvard-Westlake computers to a network of underground buyers in Los Angeles and Riverside counties, while stripping Pentium processors from other units to create new, untraceable systems that he sold as well, police sources said.

By the time a warrant for his arrest was issued through Van Nuys Superior Court, however, his attorney and family told officers they had not seen Labbad for more than a month, police said. Authorities are continuing their search for him through fugitive databases.

Repeated attempts to contact Labbad's family and attorney were unsuccessful.

Police say Labbad, a dark-haired young man who looked older than his age, lured several friends from the Cleveland High School football team into his schemes with promises of easy money and the admiration of peers. Police officials also said Labbad often boasted about the burglaries and how easy it was to break into schools, Harvard-Westlake in particular.

"In my years of police work, I thought Labbad was one of the most charismatic and intelligent people I've ever met," North Hollywood Division Det. Vince Bancroft said.

But when the time arrived for the burglaries, police said, Labbad never went inside, instead allowing accomplices to do the dirty work while he waited in the getaway car. That practice set the stage for violence and Labbad's arrest when, on the morning of Oct. 19, a 17-year-old youth was shot and critically wounded by a Harvard-Westlake administrator during an attempted seventh break-in at the school.

Police officials said the wounded youth, who recovered and was later charged with second-degree burglary, led them to Labbad.

When he was interviewed, however, a thoroughly cool and confident Labbad denied knowing the teenager even though, as police later learned, the two were teammates on the Cleveland High football team. Eventually, Bancroft said, more than a dozen friends and former classmates, all scattered across the country in various colleges, corroborated the wounded youth's story.

Classmates at Cleveland described Labbad as always confident, even arrogant. Although Labbad always seemed to have an arm around a girl on campus, classmates said, he hung out mainly with football teammates. Other students, who worked with him on the yearbook, called Labbad a "born leader" who was nonetheless "manipulative" as well as being "bossy and mean".

One yearbook staffer recalled Labbad had constantly belittled her work on last year's book.

"He was the editor, but he acted like he was the only person working on the book, and we resented that sometimes," said the student, who like others on the campus said they were afraid to be identified.

Born in Lebanon, Labbad and his family immigrated to the United States before he turned 5. After the family's arrival in Los Angeles, Labbad's father worked as a self-employed computer technician, police said.

It was a talent apparently passed to his gifted son, whose interest in computers manifested itself at an early age, according to teachers.

"Gabriel was obsessed with computers, in fact he was building his own machines by the ninth grade with parts he bought from Radio Shack and other local electronic stores,' one recalled.

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