By Edwin Folven, 10/04/2012
A 36-year-old suspect who police described as a transient was arrested on Sept. 14 in Park La Brea for allegedly stealing mail packages that were left in front of residents’ apartments.
William Johnson, 36, has been charged with grand theft, a felony, and remains in custody. Investigators have connected him with three thefts that occurred in Park La Brea between Aug. 28 and Sept. 14, and believe he may have been involved in additional thefts within the complex, and in the surrounding area. Det. Sal Loera, with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division, said Johnson has a history of similar crimes, and said he was found to be in possession of stolen mail when he was arrested.
“It occurred in different parts of the complex,” Loera said. “We had some previous reports about things that had been stolen, and since the arrest, the thefts have stopped.”
Loera credited a witness with assisting in the arrest. On Sept. 14, Johnson was reportedly seen entering a laundry room at the complex with a sealed box. The witness followed and observed Johnson open the box, pull out a pair of tennis shoes, and then put them on. The suspect fled, and the witness notified security, who detained Johnson at 401 S. Hauser Blvd. and held him for police.
“He was looking for packages that were delivered by the postal service, UPS or Fed Ex that had been left on people’s doorsteps when they weren’t home,” Loera said. “It was occurring during the afternoon hours when everybody was at work.”
The detective said Johnson was likely staying in the surrounding neighborhood and was sneaking into the gated complex. Johnson’s last known address was in South Los Angeles, and Loera did not know how long he had been in the local area. Clothing, iPhones and other small items that are believed to be stolen were recovered, Loera added.
Mail theft is a federal offense, and investigators with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are working with LAPD detectives on the case. Stacia Crane, a spokeswoman for the postal inspection service, said each incident is handled on a case-by-case basis. In many situations, federal authorities determine it is sufficient for suspects to be prosecuted by the local district attorney’s office. Crane added, however, that a decision on whether federal prosecutors would file charges against Johnson would be made at a later date.
“It just depends. We treat the theft of one piece of mail the same as one hundred pieces of mail.” Crane added. “We will work with the prosecuting attorney and determine whether any additional charges are necessary.”
Crane added that the stolen mail that was recovered was turned over to postal inspectors on Sept. 27, and that investigators would be contacting the recipients to notify them that it is being held by the postal service. The mail is currently considered evidence, but will be returned once the criminal case against Johnson concludes.
Loera said anyone else who believes they were a victim of the mail thefts should call Wilshire Division burglary detectives at (213)922-8257. Baumgart said he is frequently asked about why the Hollywood Sign is not illuminated at night, a topic that is not currently up for consideration.
“It’s not going to happen any time soon,” Baumgart said. “You would be drawing people up to the sign in the middle of the night. If somebody dropped a cigarette up there at two-in-the-morning, you could have a tragedy with houses lost and lives lost.”