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Orange County

Electronics Robberies Spark Probe

A terrorism team joins the inquiry into a series of Radio Shack heists, the latest in Laguna Niguel by a man with a sawed-off shotgun.

August 20, 2004|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A joint task force on terrorism has joined the investigation of a series of robberies at Southland electronics stores, including one this week in Laguna Niguel.

In the Wednesday robbery, a man spent 25 minutes asking employees about global positioning systems and talking on a cellphone, then pulled a sawed-off shotgun out of his duffel bag and made off with a TV and walkie-talkies.

Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino said the incident at the Radio Shack in the 27000 block of Alicia Parkway began about 9 a.m. when a man called asking for directions to the store from Garden Grove.

Even after being told that there were other, closer Radio Shack stores, Amormino said, the man insisted on making the trip.

Three hours later, a man -- described as 30 to 40 years old, 5 foot 8 to 6 feet tall, 200 to 230 pounds, of "Middle Eastern descent" and "very well-dressed" in a suit and tie with medium-length dark hair -- walked into the store carrying a duffel bag.

He picked out a TV set and asked employees to wrap it. As they were doing so, Amormino said, the man "kept pacing through the store checking out the merchandise," asking questions and receiving or making as many as six calls on his cellphone.

The man, employees later told investigators, seemed particularly interested in global positioning systems, but there were none at the store.

The man then opened the duffel bag and took out a sawed-off shotgun. He threatened employees and left with the TV set, cash from the register and six walkie-talkies with a range of five miles, as well as batteries and chargers.

"During the actual commission of the crime he did receive a phone call and was discussing some aspects of the robbery, which is very unusual," Amormino said.

The total value of the stolen items -- including the cash -- is about $1,000, said Sgt. Mike Gavin, a sheriff's detective assigned to the case.

He said investigators have since learned that the robbery closely resembles four other recent Radio Shack heists in Long Beach, Anaheim, Rowland Heights and Pomona. Some of the other incidents, he said, also began with phone calls asking directions from Garden Grove.

While investigators don't believe there are any terrorist links, Amormino said the terrorism task force -- operated by the Sheriff's Department and the FBI -- was called in because of the nation's "heightened state of vigilance." Among other things, he said, task force members have been given copies of the store's surveillance videos.

"They're looking into it because of the potential," Gavin said, but "we don't see any tie-in. We're looking at it as a guy who's going from Radio Shack to Radio Shack trying to make a quick buck."

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