Smash-and-grab thieves foiled by East Portland cops

Read how “good, old-fashioned detective work” led East Precinct detectives to a band of I-5 cruising crooks who stole a $100,000 stamp collection ‚Äì and how they recovered the rare and valuable goods ‚Ķ

After his mishap in Portland, the victim of the stamp collection theft was glad to show us his recovered collection, but didn’t want to appear on camera.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
“I didn’t ever think I’d see them again,” exclaims Charles. “Not only for my own benefit, but also for that of the Sioux tribe in central South Dakota, to which this stamp collection belongs. I am surprised and delighted that the police were able to recover this collection.”

An older gentleman, Charles declines to give his last name, and won’t say where he is from, other than he lives in Washington State.

Starts with a “smash-and-grab”
Charles’ story started on February 5, in the parking lot of the CompUSA store in the 11500 Block of N.E. Glenn Widing Drive, near Airport Way.

“We were en route,” Charles tells us, “heading north. The stamps were in the car. I went into the store to buy a new computer. During the time we were in the store, someone smashed the window and grabbed the stamps. They also grabbed other bags, and a brief case.”

Charles says he still feels sick when he remembers returning to the car and seeing the driver’s side rear window of his SUV smashed in, and the bags gone.

“These stamps are not postage stamps”, Charles elucidates. “These are ‘revenue stamps’ that validate a license to hunt waterfowl on a reservation. When you buy a hunting license, the stamp validates it.”

While Charles’ says his “best guess, low end” value for the stamp collection was in the neighborhood of $100,000, he adds that there is a very limited market for the valuables. “Very few people collect these stamps. They are rare, but not widely collected. They couldn’t be immediately dumped on the market.”

The victim says these are only 6 of the revenue stamps he holds; their value has yet to be established.

Detectives on the case
Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Detective Sgt. David Anderson picks up the story.

“This crime fit the profile of several others we’ve had in the area,” Anderson tell us. “We pounded the pavement and burned the midnight oil. We did some good, old-fashioned detective work.”

East Precinct Detective Sgt. David Anderson tells how a little extra investigation helped them build a strong case against the alleged crooks – and recover the stolen stamp collection.

While the put together information for arrest warrants, the detectives didn’t immediately move in for the collar.

“We followed the suspects to Clackamas Town Center,” Anderson says. “We watched them break into a car at the Old Spaghetti Factory. That victim was an off-duty, out of town police officer ‚Äì using an unmarked police car ‚Äì attending a conference. After scouting out the area, it took less than five seconds for them to smash the window and grab his police bag. Fortunately, he had his gun with him.”

The two suspects, arrested, gave up the third suspect – the man accused of actually harboring the allegedly swiped stamps at his house.

“We did a knock-and-talk,” Anderson relates. “He coughed up the stamps.”

By investing a little extra investment in time and legwork, the detective says, they were able to build a rock-solid case against the alleged thieves – and recover the stamps.

The thieves said they knew they’d found something unusual. They moved the stamps to another location. They tried to figure out how much they worth. It isn’t that easy.

They ended up at a house on N.E. Halsey Street, where the police found them on Monday night.

Cops say Tuan Ho, Rong Li and Quan Vo, accused of smash-and-grab car prowl hits, told them they plied their trade in Tigard and Portland, and as far north as Kirkland and Bellevue in the Seattle area.

Busted!
On February 6, East Precinct Detectives arrested 44-year-old Tuan Ho, 29-year-old Rong Li and 28-year-old Quan Vo each on One Count of Aggravated Theft in the First Degree.

Anderson describes their operation, saying “they specialized in SUVs and vehicles that look like corporate fleet or rental cars. They target cars they think might contain a laptop computer. It takes about five seconds to grab a computer and they’re gone. They sell them for about $300 bucks.”

Don’t be a victim
We asked Charles if he learned anything from his ordeal.

“No, nothing I didn’t know,” he replied. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Anderson turns to us and says privately, “Sometimes it’s unavoidable; sometimes you must leave valuables in plain view in your vehicle. But, this is the second set of suspects in a year that are doing this. They prowl restaurant lots during lunch hour or happy hour, and parking lots in malls. Save yourself a lot of trouble: Take your computer bag with you into the restaurant, or put it in the trunk.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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