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Suave con man targets visiting sports teams, entertainers

Burglar posing as part of athletes' and artists' entourages has stolen money and jewelry from hotels and locker rooms.

November 07, 2009|Richard Winton

Los Angeles police detectives said a smooth-talking con artist has used an elaborate scheme to steal thousands of dollars in cash and belongings from a salsa band, one of Israel's top basketball teams and Mexico's Chivas soccer team.

Investigators allege that the man used websites and social media to learn about visiting teams, artists and tourists' movements in downtown Los Angeles, then charmed his way into their private hotel rooms and suites when the visitors were away.

"These out-of-town visitors are often unfamiliar with their surroundings and are often carrying lots of cash," Police Lt. Paul Vernon said.

Vernon also said the man is suspected of being an "office creeper" who has slipped into downtown office buildings and made away with laptop computers, including one belonging to a Los Angeles Police Department detective.

Vernon said police suspect he slipped into BP Plaza in downtown last week, signed in under a pseudonym and stole a laptop and hard hat.

According to authorities, the man slipped into a Staples Center locker room on Oct. 20 as the Israeli team played the Los Angeles Clippers and stole $26,000 in cash and jewelry from 11 players' lockers.

Witnesses told police they remembered seeing the same man earlier that day, before the Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv team's game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Vernon said.

"At one point, the man was thrown out for not having proper credentials," Vernon said.

"Apparently he returned, dressed in a suit, holding a clipboard, and with some kind of credential sticking out of his pocket. A ball boy saw the man in the Israeli team's locker room after the players went on the court, but the ball boy assumed the man worked at Staples," Vernon said.

When detectives examined the surveillance video they noticed a strong resemblance to a burglar who they believe talked his way into a downtown hotel room.

On Aug. 29, salsa musicians were booked to play the Greek Theatre.

A man with slicked-back hair convinced a desk clerk at the Wilshire Grand Hotel that he was part of the salsa group and needed pass cards to rooms, police said.

"He gives the desk clerk a music CD in thanks for the help. Over $9,000 was later discovered missing from several rooms," Vernon said.

On Sept. 22, the same man, wearing a Chivas soccer jersey, greeted and hugged members of the Chivas team as they left a downtown Marriott hotel on a team bus, Vernon said.

"He turns, walks up to the desk clerk, and convinces the clerk to give him their room keys," Vernon said.

"Over $10,000 was later reported missing from the soccer players' rooms," Vernon said.

The man is still at large.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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