Los Angeles Daily News

Los Angeles Daily News
Gangs thought to be involved in cig heists
Smokes stolen from Valley gas stations

By Josh Kleinbaum
Staff Writer
Saturday, July 23, 2005 – South Los Angeles gang members could be responsible for a series of lucrative cigarette heists at San Fernando Valley gas stations, police said Friday.
Three men pulled off a daring midday heist at an Arco station in North Hills on Thursday, stealing $23,000 worth of Marlboro cigarettes, officials said. While two of the men distracted the cashier, a third pried open the door to the storage room and loaded cartons of cigarettes into a van. By the time the cashier realized the cigarettes were missing, the suspects were long gone, police said.
“I got burned big-time, a lot of money,” said the station owner, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. “This guy broke four locks in three minutes. He breaks doors like they’re pieces of cheese.”

Similar crimes recently occurred at two ampm stations and a Mobil station in North Hollywood, Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Ernest Eskridge said. “We think they could be gang members from the South L.A. area,” Eskridge said. “They think the targets may be a little easier (in the Valley), and they can just hop on the freeway.” Surveillance cameras at the Arco in North Hills caught the faces of the two men who distracted the clerk, and police hope to use a facial recognition computer program to identify the suspects, Eskridge said. “Cigarettes have become a big issue,” Mission area Capt. Kirk Albanese said. “A case by itself can be worth $5,000. They need to bring cigarettes in a few at a time and leave the bulk at a more secure location.”

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