Two arrested in sting targeting laptop thefts

| 11/27/2006

Two Florida residents have been nabbed in a sting operation set up by the feds targeting laptop thefts.

The sting was the result of the thefts of two laptops in Florida in 2006. The laptops belonged to a Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General special agent and contained the Social Security numbers, dates of births, etc., of thousands of Florida residents including thousands of truckers from the Miami-Dade and Orlando areas.

The federal investigation by the OIG's office along with the FBI and Miami-Dade Police Department, led to the arrest of an individual suspected of having stolen one of the OIG laptops.

Juan Esteban Calle was identified in a surveillance operation conducted at the same restaurant where one of the laptops had been stolen, according to an OIG press release.

During surveillance, Calle allegedly stole a decoy computer - using the same technique that was used in the original theft, a device was used to "punch" the lock in the passenger-side door.

According to the OIG, Calle admitted stealing numerous laptops but did not admit to stealing the OIG's laptop from the restaurant parking lot on July 27.

"Considering the time that passed before his arrest, however, it is questionable whether the suspect could have known if one of the laptops he admitted stealing was or was not the laptop stolen on July 27," OIG officials stated in the press release.

Calle was indicted on a federal charge of theft of government property for the theft of the decoy laptop.

The decoy laptop stolen during the surveillance was delivered to a computer business owner, who loaded new operating system software on it. Loading new operating system software overwrites some of the data on the hard disk and makes any remaining data invisible to the new owner and very difficult to recover without specialized knowledge and tools, according to the release.

After OIG officials recovered the decoy computer, a forensic analysis was performed confirming that the original data on the computer had not been accessed before the new operating system was loaded.

Interviews of these subjects and other involved individuals revealed the existence of a small theft ring that stole laptops at and near the restaurant, loaded new operating systems, and then sold the computers on the used computer market - primarily to high school students.

The interviews also confirmed that the ring did not target the data and did not even attempt to access the data on the laptops they stole.

Calle's trial is scheduled for Dec. 4 in U.S. District Court in Miami. He is being held in the federal detention center in Miami and also faces immigration charges, according to the OIG.

A second arrest was made by local authorities stemming from the sting operation.

Carlos Andres Leon was arrested by local police and charged on the local level with attempting to break into a vehicle. His trial is set for Tuesday, Nov. 28, in a local Miami court.

An investigation of the Orlando theft is continuing.