A 29-year-old Santa Ana man was behind bars Wednesday on suspicion of beating up a man in a dispute over a leaf blower, but police said he has been a “one-man crime wave” since spring of last year, stealing at least $100,000 from stores throughout Orange County.
Hector Maldonado Ibarra was arrested Tuesday and booked on suspicion of “pistol whipping” a worker with a leaf blower on Nov. 23 because the suspect was angry that the worker was getting dust on his vehicle, which police say was used in numerous shoplifting crimes and robberies in multiple cities dating back to April.
So far, Ibarra, who has a lengthy criminal history involving drug paraphernalia, has not been charged with the thefts, but Santa Ana police have 18 cases they suspect he is linked to, according to Detective Jeff Launi. The thefts of “high end” purses, wallets and other clothes from discount shops such as Marshalls and T.J. Maxx occurred in Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Tustin and Aliso Viejo, Launi said.
As part of a Santa Ana police effort to clear a backlog of cases, Launi began investigating a serial shoplifter at a Marshalls store, saying the security guard recognized the alleged thief, Launi said.
The suspect grew so “brazen” he would use vehicles registered to him or family members and do little to conceal the license plates, Launi said. That sort of evidence coupled with surveillance video and the investigative work of security officials at the Marshalls corporate offices led to Ibarra, according to the detective.
In some of the theft cases, Ibarra would “rack” or point to a replica pistol on his waist to scare off security guards, Launi said. Corporate officials had even sent out a flier to employees with a picture of Ibarra to warn them, Launi said.
Police determined where Ibarra lived, but waited until he left his home because they suspected he had weapons at the residence, Launi said. Officers wound up stopping Ibarra in his car, and he had his two children, aged 6 months and 5 years, in the vehicle. Police also recovered heroin and methamphetamine in the vehicle, Launi said.
Police searched the suspect’s residence and recovered children’s clothes, expensive purses and wallets and other allegedly stolen goods, Launi said. Store officials have calculated the loss at “at least six figures,” Launi said.
Ibarra allegedly confessed that he had a heroin habit and was stealing to pay for it.
Ibarra is also facing a misdemeanor battery case stemming from a March 30 incident in which he allegedly beat up the manager of a drug store, Launi said. Ibarra is due in court on that case on Friday.
On March 7, 2014, he pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia and was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to undergo a drug program, according to court records.
He pleaded guilty to driving on a suspended license June 30, 2014, and was sentenced to 10 days in jail, according to court records.
He pleaded guilty Dec. 2, 2014, to petty theft and was sentenced to 120 days in jail, according to court records.
Ibarra again pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia on July 20, but his sentence was suspended, according to court records.
–City News Service
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