Authorities believe the theft of computers and iPads at Vieja Valley Elementary and Laguna Blanca schools last January is connected to a larger string of burglaries around Southern California by a Riverside County street gang. The Edgemont/Dorner Blocc Crips, police say, have been targeting schools outfitted with high-tech equipment and using the proceeds to fund their gang activity.
In a Friday court hearing in front of Judge Brian Hill, Santa Barbara prosecutors presented evidence that Andre Clayton was a part of these heists, which began in San Diego and Riverside and eventually expanded to Orange, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara counties. Over a week’s time, more than $10,000 in computer equipment was stolen from Vieja Valley, along with $15,000 worth of electronics from Laguna Blanca. The gang, attorneys said, would search online for schools that received Apple computers, laptops, and iPads through various programs, then break in and steal the property.
It took several thefts at multiple elementary schools in Southern California before a law enforcement task force was able to pin the activity on the Edgemont/Dorner Blocc Crips. A cell phone analyst traced cell phone calls in certain areas where the crimes were committed, and text messages implicated the suspects as well.
Clayton allegedly had text messages on his phone from two other gang members from Moreno Valley. Those men — along with one other — are currently being charged in San Diego County for similar crimes. They were pulled over January 30 with 29 stolen iPads, according to the San Diego DA’s Office. In that county, law enforcement officials say, 115 Apple laptops and 123 iPads had been stolen between November 2012 and January 2013.
Testimony at Clayton’s preliminary hearing last week pointed to the messages on Clayton’s phone, which included addresses of elementary schools sent by Trevor Williams and Thomas Burleson. Williams and Clayton exchanged texts 47 times in a one-month span, according to Melanie Town, a criminal intelligence analyst. Clayton and Burleson exchanged texts 38 times, she said. While only Clayton has been charged with crimes related to the Laguna Blanca and Vieja Valley incidents, Town said Williams used his cell phone in the Santa Barbara area around the time of the January 24 theft.
Deputy Mario Moreno, who works for the Riverside County Gang Task Force, said the Edgemont/Dorner gang has about 200 members, and its primary activities include burglaries, thefts, and robberies. He said he was familiar with Clayton, though he has never met him. Moreno said he considered Clayton an active member, citing various police contacts where Clayton was with gang members and allegedly told authorities he was a part of the Edgemont/Dorner outfit.
Moreno said members seek tangible items to steal and then sell to “fund the gang.” He said they use the earnings to purchase or acquire guns. “This is definitely part of their criminal history,” Moreno said Friday. “This is what they do. They steal computers from schools.”
Surveillance footage at Vieja Valley showed three people on the school grounds, but only Clayton has been connected to the crime, after a camera captured a license plate number. Clayton allegedly admitted to deputies he was on the Laguna Blanca campus on January 24 and that he used a rock to break a window and nab several computers. He told deputies he would search for schools in affluent areas that would have nicer computer equipment.
Santa Barbara prosecutors are seeking a gang enhancement against Clayton. That would bump the potential prison time he serves up to seven years. Under cross-examination, however, Moreno said gang members can commit crimes that just benefit themselves.
Prosecutor Kimberly Siegel called the case “an excellent example of how law enforcement agencies can put together an investigation that ultimately takes down a criminal enterprise.”