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Search continues for 2 who kidnapped pharmaceuticals deliveryman

Authorities say a pair posing as police officers abducted the delivery truck driver at gunpoint outside a Sherman Oaks Rite Aid store. The men stole the contents of the truck and disappeared. The driver was unharmed.

October 08, 2010|By Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times

Two robbers posing as police officers abducted a man at gunpoint Thursday morning as he was preparing to deliver pharmaceuticals to a San Fernando Valley drugstore, Los Angeles police said.

The victim, who was not immediately identified, had just gotten out of his delivery truck in front of the Rite Aid pharmacy in the 13300 block of Riverside Drive in Sherman Oaks when he was confronted by two men armed with semiautomatic handguns and wearing sweatshirts with the word "police" on them.

One of the men forced the driver back into his delivery truck and drove off about 6:45 a.m. The other man followed the truck in a car described as a black, four-door Honda with tinted windows, chrome rims and a racing spoiler.

Donald West initially watched the scene unfold from a spot near the drugstore's entrance, where he was collecting donations for a charity.

He said he saw two men approach the delivery driver and order him to put his hands up, but he turned away because the men were in uniform.

"They looked like police to me," West said. "They had police uniforms on. I thought the [victim] was doing something wrong. I turned away."

Timothy J. Landrum, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Los Angeles field office, said federal officials are seeing an upswing in pharmacy and delivery truck robberies.

"Sadly, the increase in prescription drug abuse creates crime," Landrum said. "And over the past five years we have seen an increase in prescription drug diversion through forgery of prescriptions, pharmacy robberies and burglaries."

Although kidnappings connected to robberies remain rare, LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon said investigators are seeing more crimes targeting pharmacies, many of them takeover-style heists by gang members.

"It's a trend we are seeing more of," Gannon said. "It seems to be what gang members are turning to as a crime. They jump the counter, take cash and sweep the shelves" of drugs.

On Thursday morning, the robbers didn't enter the store. But officials with the Los Angeles Police Department said they were particularly concerned about another aspect of the case: The thieves in Sherman Oaks posed as cops.

"It's people posing as the watchdog when they are really the wolf," LAPD Sgt. Mitzi Grasso said.

The delivery driver was found unharmed at Sepulveda Boulevard and Haynes Street, about two miles from the crime scene. The truck turned up in the parking lot of a liquor store at Reseda Avenue and Burbank Boulevard, emptied of its contents. Late Thursday, the two robbers remained at large.

Dan Burges, the director of intelligence at FreightWatch International, a security firm that tracks cargo theft, said prescription drugs also are an increasingly favored target of thieves, who steal them in large quantities from trucks and warehouses.

In 2006, the security firm reported 11 large-scale thefts. By last year, that number jumped to 46 such crimes. In one of the most highly publicized thefts, thieves made off with $75 million in prescription drugs in March from a warehouse in Enfield, Conn.

"It's market-driven crime," Burges said. "It's what the thieves want because that's what the consumer wants."

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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