Vital Numbers Stolen From Mail, Police Say
by Matthew B. Stannard, The San Francisco Chronicle
Julian Antonio Torres lived the high life, police say.
He spent his nights in San Francisco's Embassy Suites and the
Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay. He tooled around the Bay Area in
a Mercedes or astride a lightning-fast motorcycle. He watched
big-screen televisions and chatted with friends on cell phones.
Not bad for a 21-year-old drifter from San Mateo.
Only one problem, San Jose police say: Torres is no dot-com
millionaire, but a computer-savvy crook who turned mail stolen from
ritzy neighborhoods in San Francisco and Woodside into cash.
Now, Torres has been booked on 63 felony counts of theft, forgery,
identity theft and possession of stolen property. He was being held
Tuesday in Santa Clara County Jail in lieu of $ 1 million bail, said
Ken Munson, San Jose police detective. More arrests are expected in
Torres was part of a ring of thieves from San Mateo and Santa Clara
counties whose victims spanned those counties as well as San
Francisco, Contra Costa and Santa Cruz, and possibly others from
Florida and Minnesota, Munson said.
The thieves would target wealthy neighborhoods and steal mail left in
boxes or public bins, searching the envelopes for credit card and
bank records, he said.
Armed with the credit card data, Torres allegedly would reserve hotel
rooms over the Internet, buy stereos and huge television sets online,
and purchase motorcycle accessories -- some to keep, some to sell for
Torres also allegedly opened five E-Trade accounts and 31 PayPal
online billing accounts, then transferred huge sums into them from
the raided bank accounts. Some of the withdrawals bounced, but plenty
of others went through unchallenged, Munson said.
"All he needed was the routing number and the account number, and he
would start transferring money" -- at least $ 100,000, which Torres
then would withdraw from ATMs or use for more online purchases,
Some of the cash was converted into cashier's checks, which Torres
allegedly would use to buy fancy cars and motorcycles he found
advertised on Craigslist and other Bay Area online bulletin boards,
Munson said. A Mercedes here, two Corvettes there, a BMW, a pair of
Acuras, a stable of motorcycles -- 16 vehicles in all, he said.
Some of the vehicles Torres kept, and some he sold to unsuspecting
buyers who would discover the car was stolen only when they tried to
register it with the state, Munson said.
Police in the Internet age see these kinds of crime every day, Munson
said, adding that investigators are deluged with reports of bank
fraud, online theft, missing mail and similar crimes.
So many are reported that they sometimes get little investigation. In
fact, Torres himself was arrested in San Francisco last year with a
fraudulent check and a stack of stolen mail, but prosecutors declined
to file charges, Munson said.
But together, the cases now allegedly linked to Torres represented at
least $ 250,000 in losses, he said, and dozens of victims.
"We've found at least 75 people that have had mail stolen," Munson said.
But one of those alleged victims decided to strike back -- Jill
Maggio, owner of San Jose's Bridge Wireless, where Torres allegedly
bought several Nextel phones with a bad check in February.
"He cost us a lot of money," Maggio said Tuesday. "It was really just
the principle of the thing."
Once she discovered she'd been had, Maggio turned her technical skill
to the problem, switching the service from the stolen phones to units
in her shop. Before long, the voice mail on each phone began to fill
up with some really interesting messages.
One she remembers well: "Hey, I got another credit card number for you."
"I think the big crack in the case was when a girlfriend called,"
Maggio said. "She left a number."
All of the voice mails were routed to Munson, including one from Sony
regarding a laptop that Torres allegedly purchased with a stolen
credit card. Munson made a phone call to Sony to get Torres' e-mail
address -- and a few search warrants later, dozens of cases began
"This thing continues to blossom. Every weekend, I get more victims,"
Munson said. "There's a lot more out there."