Pasadena police are investigating similarities between a recently foiled plot to steal $1.6 million in gold parts by using a fake Jet Propulsion Laboratory office and another scam that employed a phony aerospace office where thieves took delivery of $500,000 in gold and other precious metals.
The JPL scam was foiled Tuesday when federal agents arrested four men who had ordered gold sheeting and 12- and 14-gauge wires for a phony government space shuttle project.
The scheme came unraveled when officials noticed that the thieves had misspelled the word "sergeant" on a requisition form and then asked that the metal be delivered by next-day UPS, instead of the customary armored car service.
Now, police say they are examining "striking similarities" between that plot and an earlier one that used a fake address in the same area of east Pasadena and also targeted a manufacturer of precious metals.
"We believe the same persons were involved," said Pasadena Police Cmdr. Chris Vicino.
The four men arrested Tuesday were Anthony M. Macaluso, 19; Alexander Drabkin, 42; Daniel C. Patterson, 57; and Michael Itaev, 45. Macaluso and Patterson are from Temple City, police said, and Itaev and Drabkin are from Los Angeles.
They are accused of attempting to defraud Massachusetts-based Stern-Leach Co. of large quantities of gold products. Each has been charged with mail fraud and faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
In the JPL scam, Patterson allegedly posed as a military official from San Diego seeking to have gold products sent to a Pasadena office for delivery to a "Dr. Charles Shultz," according to prosecutors and court papers.
When undercover agents from the Defense Department arrived at the North San Gabriel Boulevard address, they found a sign on the door saying "Neutron Accelerator Project." They arrested Drabkin, who was wearing a white scientist's coat bearing a label saying "Dr. Shultz," immediately after he agreed to accept delivery of the gold products.
In the June incident, still under investigation, a person claiming to be from a well-known aerospace conglomerate contacted the sales staff at a different precious metals company and requested parts made of a combination of gold, platinum and another precious metal, said Pasadena Police Det. Dennis Diaz. He and other authorities declined to identify the precious metals firm.
The individual, Diaz said, told the sales staff that the material was needed immediately for a space shuttle project and persuaded the firm to ship it to a Pasadena office via FedEx.
Investigators said the $500,000 shipment was very specialized because the gold is combined in a unique way with another element to withstand extreme temperatures. Diaz said the order suggested that the thieves were either well-versed in metallurgy or had a buyer who specified the item.
The gold parts were delivered to an office where the door was marked with the name of the aerospace firm, which authorities decline to identify. The office was in the neighborhood of the fake JPL address, Diaz said. "All they did was put the name on the door and make a call," Diaz said of the earlier scheme.