Car break-in victim tracks down property, calls police who admit they know about 'fencing operation'

ByDan Noyes KGO logo
Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Why haven't SF police cracked down on 'known fencing operation'?
Oakland car break-in victim tracks stolen camera and gear to San Francisco and calls police who admit to knowing about 'fencing operation.'

SAN FRANCISCO -- Justin Schuck is one of more than 10,000 people who have had their cars broken into so far this year in Oakland, California. But his story doesn't end with the shattered glass.

It actually led to San Francisco, where he says, "If this is the place where stolen goods from in and around the Bay Area come, that's kind of messed up."

Schuck had attached trackers to $24,000 worth of camera gear stolen that day. But what happened next was very frustrating for him -- and for all of us who care about public safety and quality of life. Through an app on his phone, he watched his gear go across the bridge into San Francisco, to what an officer called "a known fencing operation." Dan Noyes, with our San Francisco sister station ABC7 News I-Team, wanted to know, if it's a known fencing operation, why haven't they shut it down?

This couldn't have come at a worse time for Schuck. He was rebuilding his life after losing everything including his successful advertising agency, because of a substance abuse issue. Four years of clean living later, he bought camera gear, enrolled in the Masters film program at SF State, and started taking video production jobs - including one in Oakland two weeks ago.

"I had just been driving through downtown and I was like, 'Isn't Oakland beautiful? Like, I love Oakland,'" said Schuck.

Schuck thought he had done enough to hide the gear in the trunk of his rented Tesla while he had lunch on Broadway, just across from the YMCA. But, he came out to find -- windows shattered, his camera, lenses and drone - gone. Schuck had just bought the gear and hadn't had time to insure it.

"I literally felt like the pit of my stomach drop. And I knew that the equipment wasn't insured. And so to have it gone so soon after, like, buying it, just was devastating," said Schuck.

Usually in these cases, it's smash, grab, and gone. You have little chance of retrieving your property. But Schuck had hidden tracking devices inside his gear cases, and on a phone app, he watched the criminals travel from Oakland into San Francisco. He showed the app to the I-Team: "It was on Post Street, right? And it's literally moving down."

He's on the phone with a San Francisco police officer when he sees his camera gear arrive at a location in the 300 block of Leavenworth.

"And he goes, 'Oh, yeah, that's a known major fencing operation," Schuck said. "'Everybody in the Bay Area knows that they can bring their stolen goods and offload them there.' Think about that."

Noyes: "That's what he said?"

Schuck: "That is what the officer said to me on the phone."

Schuck used to live in the area and he knows it well.

"And it's a block and a half, not even a block and a half from the Tenderloin Police Station. Like, how were you not raiding that place on a daily basis?" said Schuck.

Noyes had the same question. So, he walked by the location of the alleged fencing operation, to the Tenderloin Police Station, and called its captain, Sergio Chin. He did not return our messages.

ABC7 News reached an SFPD spokesperson who would not comment on the Leavenworth site, but emailed, "At this time we cannot disclose any information on the location you referred to based on possible ongoing investigations."

We also checked with the supervisor for this district, Dean Preston, not only about the possible fencing operation but also about this mess that has taken over part of the street and sidewalk. He said he didn't have time for an interview, but texted, "Our office has repeatedly engaged departments about the various challenges on the 300 block of Leavenworth and our understanding is that this block is part of a joint field operation that includes various departments and the SFPD."

On Thursday, Preston chaired a committee about the car break-ins, and said, "The city has made no noticeable progress." He also updated an anti-fencing reward program set up by Mayor Breed two years ago. It offers up to $100,000 for information leading to an arrest of those dealing in stolen goods. Preston said no money, ever, has been paid out as part of the rewards program.

"But, it's also I think, important to circle back and look at what's working and what isn't," Preston said.

Frustrating times for Schuck, someone who lived in Oakland and now calls San Francisco home.

"I honestly think it's time for new leadership at like every level because this has gone on long enough. And I'm sick and tired. I'm sick and tired," said Schuck.

This incident might have been recorded on the YMCA surveillance cameras, and Schuck asked them and the police to save it. Noyes started asking questions about it, and on Friday, the YMCA reported that the video had been recorded over. They didn't save it in time.

One other note, there was no onboard video from the Tesla Schuck rented. He said that Hertz disables the onboard cameras on the Teslas they rent.

Schuck has opened a GoFundme account to help replace his stolen gear. To donate, click here.