It was a sight to behold Friday afternoon when the largest room of the Ceres Community Center was filled with a sea of merchandise awaiting to be carried back to the stores from where it was all stolen.
Ceres Police oversaw the hours-long operation after the Aug. 11 arrest of a Modesto man who conducted a large fencing operation involving an estimated quarter of a million dollars in goods that were carted out of various stores by an untold number of thieves who were never caught. The thieves would then sell the purloined goods to Travis Garvin, 36, who would offer them a quarter of the value. Garvin then sold the stolen merchandise on eBay to unsuspecting buyers at double the price he paid but about half what one would expect to pay at the stores.
Through UPC stickers, police identified where the goods were stolen from and contacted about 20 stores – mostly big box retailers like Target, Lowe’s, Walmart, Home Depot and Harbor Freight – and asked representatives to pick up what was theirs at a central location.
Investigators had noticed a rash of burglaries and robberies at stores in and around Ceres where suspects carted out goods without paying for them. None of the theft suspects were arrested because they got away before police arrived.
Led by Ceres Police Detective Eric Gallegos, the department investigated for months and learned of a fencing operation being operated in Modesto. Detectives developed enough evidence to obtain a search warrant for both locations. The first warrant was served in the 2200 block of Cassandra Way in Modesto, which yielded an estimated $250,000 in stolen merchandise ranging from protein powder and video game consoles to power tools and pond pumps. In all, three trailers full of stolen merchandise were seized.
In the second search warrant, served in the 1400 block of Rosemore Avenue in Modesto, detective came up emptyhanded.
Garvin was cooperative with police and posted bail and was released from jail the next day, said Ceres Police Department Sgt. Danny Vierra.
“He’s not going to a lot of jail time,” complained Sgt. Vierra. “It’s just like a stolen car that keeps somebody from going to work but do you think they do any jail time? Maybe 30 days. There just is no punishment for California property crimes.”
California still has its “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law but it’s been watered down to reduce the level of crimes that qualify as a strike, local authorities say.
“There’s stuff we found in here that came from Home Depot in Livermore and Bass Pro in Manteca,” said Vierra. “There’s some Macy’s stuff in here that’s got Macy’s labels on it.”
CVS and Rite Aid were also victims of the operation.
Home Depot’s items alone came to $26,000. Big ticket items like submergible well pumps worth $1,500 apiece were taken.
“He didn’t buy anything that wasn’t unopened,” commented Vierra.
Investigators said that Garvin had a fairly elaborate operation. People would steal items from various stores and call in the UPC label numbers to Garvin who would then research the retail cost on the internet, then pay a quarter of that price for the stolen item. He would then turn around and sell the items on eBay for half of what the store was charging.
Law enforcement officials say property crimes in California have skyrocketed for two reasons. The first was after a federal court ruled the state’s prisons were overcrowded and could hold no more prisoners than 137.5 percent of design capacity within two years from 2011. In response, Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democrat-controlled state Legislature passed AB 109 and AB 117, which became law later that year. Under these laws, new non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders with sentences of longer than one year would be housed in county jail facilities rather than state prisons. To make room for them in county jails, many drug offenders and those convicted of property crimes were released onto the streets.
Then in 2014 California voters approved Proposition 47 which raised the dollar amount of stolen goods to become a felony to $950. It downgraded most thefts to misdemeanors.