Close this search box.

How stuff gets stolen and sold in sunny SoCal


How stuff gets stolen and sold in sunny SoCal

SoCal is famous for sunny skies, sandy beaches – and stolen stuff?

It’s true: The L.A. metropolitan area is known for its burgeoning trade in pilfered products.

Recently I delved into the underworld of stolen stuff, after the tech company I work for as chief legal officer suffered a heist of electronics from a SoCal warehouse.

When I traced some of the stolen electronics to a house in Bell, California, I discovered a subculture more sophisticated than I ever imagined.

Every year, professional thieves in SoCal – called “boosters” in underworld parlance – steal millions of dollars’ worth of power tools, housewares, computer products, handbags, designer clothes, cosmetics, and myriad other high-value items.

The locations targeted include retail stores, wholesale warehouses, suburban homes, transport trucks, and train cars.

The stolen goods are sold by “fences” at swap meets or garage sales, or sometimes mixed with legitimate goods and displayed on the shelves of discount stores and pawn shops.

Sometimes fences sell stolen goods online on portals such as eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace.

That’s how I discovered an eBay seller in Bell auctioning electronics that had been snatched from our company’s warehouse one week earlier.

The police agreed to come with me to the seller’s house – and they helped me recover some of the items.

But often it’s not that simple, because sometimes stolen goods find their way across the border to Mexico. Or fences may fill a shipping container with stolen goods and ship it overseas.

Why does SoCal have the dubious distinction of being the USA’s leading location for this sort of organized theft?

“The metropolitan area’s diverse convergence of stores, street markets, warehouses, cargo ships, interstates, freight trains, and luxury goods – along with its wealth disparity, street gangs, and proximity to the Mexican border – make it singularly conducive to criminal enterprise,” wrote Paige Williams in an eye-opening New Yorker article published in March 2024.

Researchers, police, and sometimes the thieves themselves, point to three other contributing factors.

One is California voters’ enactment of Proposition 47 in 2014, which reclassified thefts under $950 in value as misdemeanors rather than felonies.

To voters, this measure seemed like an exercise of common sense. But it was interpreted by some criminals as an invitation to engage in shoplifting or petty theft.

A second factor is that large retail chains such as Home Depot have a corporate policy of not detaining shoplifters.

The companies say they don’t want property crimes to escalate into violence against their employees or other shoppers. No doubt they also fear being named in personal injury lawsuits.

A third contributing factor is that police and prosecutors in the L.A. metropolitan area are overburdened and underfunded – meaning that property theft, especially shoplifting, doesn’t rank as a high priority compared to, say, drug trafficking or violent crime.

But for thieves, the prospect of getting a ticket, or being put into a diversionary program, isn’t the same deterrent as the fear of going to prison.

However you feel about these public policies and underlying social ills from which they arise, the result is this: SoCal has not only sunny skies and sandy beaches but also a thriving subculture of trade in stolen stuff.  

Share This With Your Favorite Detective