Some taking flights to San Diego lost their luggage along the way to a serial thief, police said
SAN DIEGO -- A man was convicted after being caught on camera stealing luggage from the San Diego airport.
Earlier this year, luggage started disappearing from the arrivals area, KGTV reported.
Video shows a man taking suitcases that aren't his and leaving the airport unstopped.
"I think disbelief is probably the biggest thing for me because I'm going, my thought was that's so risky for somebody to walk over and just pick up a suitcase, because look at all the people standing around there waiting on their suitcases," Carl Jelsovsky said.
Jelsovsky is one of the victims who had his bag stolen from San Diego's airport earlier this year.
He was left with nothing but the clothes on his back.
His wife, Cody, said she thought the suitcase was lost until a police officer called.
"He said that he was investigating our lost luggage, that it had not turned up in the airport anywhere," Cody Jelsovsky said.
Inside the bag was Carl Jelsovsky's favorite Padres tie. He wore it to church on Sundays.
"We're big San Diego Padres fans. The tie I miss," he said.
More than eight months later, more details have emerged on how the stolen luggage ring operated.
Internal police documents obtained through a public records request show a man named Alberto Estrada was arrested for stealing bags back in February.
Detectives used surveillance video to crack the case, but weren't sure who the thief was until an airport traffic officer recognized him two days later.
San Diego Harbor police arrested the thief close to the airport, and found 14 bags in the back of a truck he was driving, but that wasn't all police found.
According to an affidavit for a search warrant, when Harbor police arrested Estrada, they found two hotel key cards on him.
That led them to a Motel 6 in Escondido, California, where police found even more stolen suitcases and items from the airport.
"It was the same timeframe, same baggage carousel for all these thefts, so that was kind of the clue. Hey, there's somebody's getting a little more aggressive and taking a lot of bags at once," Harbor Police Detective Sgt. Daniel Moen said.
Moen said no accomplice was ever caught, but Estrada was seen on camera with another man loading a vehicle with stolen property.
Moen said there's been 54 reports of stolen bags this year at the airport, but the number could be higher because it doesn't include reports made to airlines.
Last year there were 96 stolen bags.
"The thieves are out there, and it does seem to be an increasing crime that we hear about," The Points Guy managing editor Clint Henderson said.
The travel expert recommends avoiding checking bags and suggests using a credit card to pay for flights.
"Because some airline credit cards, some travel credit cards, will reimburse you for loss or stolen luggage up to as much as $3,000," Henderson said.
In the end, Estrada was linked to several other stolen bag investigations.
Court records show he pleaded guilty to 22 counts of burglary and was sentenced to 180 days in county jail.
He is now out on probation, and must stay away from the airport, unless he's flying.
Jelsovsky still wonders what happened to his suitcase.
Moen said detectives found several bags without tags and tried to get the stolen property reunited with victims.
But Jelsovsky's bag never surfaced.
And Moen said the clothes are likely long gone.
"We suspect he was selling them at swap meets, flea markets, or OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, that type of thing," Moen said.
But a friend from church in Idaho did get Jelsovsky a replacement Padres tie.
"Don't stop at the restroom before you go get your luggage. Go straight to the luggage counter and grab your luggage when it pops over that rail," Jelsovsky said.