A Modesto man’s alleged business made money for him and saved money for online shoppers. Thing is, it was illegal.
A monthslong investigation by the Ceres Police Department into a rash of store merchandise burglaries and robberies led to the recovery Saturday of about $250,000 in stolen merchandise.
The stolen items, ranging from whey protein powder, video game consoles and household fixtures to power tools and pond pumps, were found when a search warrant was executed at a home on the 2200 block of Cassandra Way off Blue Gum Avenue.
Ceres police arrested Travis Garvin, 36. The investigation led by Detective Eric Gallegos began after a rise in thefts from stores including Walmart and Home Depot.
What got Gallegos’ attention, said Police Department spokesman Sgt. Greg Yotsuya, was “an increase in people taking full carts of property from Home Depot and Walmart, not just in Ceres but ... Riverbank, Modesto and Turlock. Most of the incidents were burglaries turned ‘Estes’ robberies. In other words, when they were confronted by loss prevention, they would pull a weapon (hammer, pick ax or similar item that they were stealing from the store) and threaten the loss prevention agent.”
The questions raised by recent cases (not necessarily tied to Garvin) included why thieves seemed to be taking greater risks to get high-dollar items, and where the stolen goods were going, Yotsuya said. Two such cases were the theft of several Dyson vacuum cleaners from the Target store at Oakdale and Claribel roads in Riverbank. and the firing of shots by a burglar at the Home Depot in Turlock when he was surprised to encounter employees before the store opened.
As for Garvin, he had a “fairly elaborate operation” going, Ceres police said. Those who stole for him would call him with the items’ UPC label numbers, which accompany barcodes. Garvin looked up the retail costs of the items on the Internet, then paid the thieves 25 cents on the dollar. He would then sell the goods for half price on eBay, police said.
Through investigation and surveillance, detectives determined a fencing operation was being operated out of the Cassandra Way home, which Garvin rents, and a residence on the 1400 block of Rosemore Ave., about a quarter mile away. That home belongs to Garvin’s parents, Yotsuya said.
Search warrants were obtained for both addresses, but investigators came up empty at the Rosemore location, the news release said.
Police now are working with area retailers to return the stolen merchandise to its rightful owners. So far, goods belonging to Home Depot, Walmart, Lowe’s and Harbor Freight have been identified.
Garvin has been charged with possession of stolen property. He was out of jail on bail Wednesday morning.
Several people were stealing for Garvin, Yotsuya said. “He admitted that he has been operating for approximately two years. It started off with just a couple of thieves, but word spread and towards the end, he was taking in about $1,000 of property a day. The goal of this investigation was to find the fence and shut them down.”
Earlier this month, one of the people allegedly stealing for Garvin was arrested by Riverbank Police Services deputies. Corey Smith of Modesto remains in custody and faces charges of robbery, grand theft and assault with a deadly weapon stemming from crimes at the Home Depot locations in Riverbank and Ceres.
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