A 27-year-old Santa Ana man was recently arrested by Newport Beach police for allegedly burglarizing boats at several Newport marinas for fishing gear worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Among the eight ransacked vessels was the Huntress, owned by Laguna Beach native John Stanaland and his wife Rachel. As a veterinarian, Rachel Stanaland volunteers weekly at Pacific Marine Mammal Center and uses the Huntress to release seals rehabilitated by the center.
The arrest was made possible, in large part, because of boat owners’ dogged pursuit of the perpetrator, police said.
“The victims worked closely with NBPD detectives by posting multiple photos and videos online asking for help from their online followers to identify the person and vehicle,” Heather Rangel, a Newport Beach police spokesperson, wrote in an email.
Christopher Adam Garofalo was arrested Nov. 18 by Newport Beach police on suspicion of grand theft from a boat, receiving stolen property worth more than $950, and burglary from a boat.
The burglaries took place in October and November on Shipyard Way, Harbor Island Drive, West Coast Highway, Anchorage Way, and Back Bay Drive.
The Stanalands’ boat and at least three others at the Balboa Yacht Basin were burglarized late on Nov. 7 into the early morning of Nov. 8. John Stanaland went down to his boat the following Monday and found most of their fishing gear had been stolen. The suspect had removed expensive reels from rods stored onboard.
“We were told to leave the boat as is so that CSI could check for prints and DNA the following day,” Rachel Stanaland wrote in an email. “Upon arriving at the boat on Tuesday with the CSI technicians, my husband found that the thief had returned that night and finished the job. I was so upset that our boat had been burglarized not once, but twice, that I was determined to find the person responsible.”
The suspect made off with some larger tuna fishing reels that were left on board during the first burglary. Both burglaries together took the Laguna Niguel couple for about $30,000 worth of fishing gear.
Basin Marine provided a grainy screenshot from a video of the suspect entering and leaving the docks both nights, Stanaland said. From that image, she created a flyer and distributed it door-to-door in the marina neighborhood in hopes that someone may have recorded suspicious activity on their home security systems.
They then learned a fellow boat owner from across the harbor was robbed the same night and recorded the burglary on his security camera system.
“He had video of the suspect rummaging through his refrigerator and making a sandwich before stealing his fishing equipment,” Rachel Stanaland wrote.
The Stanalands posted a screenshot of the fridge raid on social media and it was shared and viewed thousands of times. Other fishermen volunteered to scour websites like OfferUp, Craigslist, and eBay for their stolen fishing gear, which was unique because red braided line was spun on the reels.
As a result of the social media blitz, Rachel connected with Peter Thomas, whose boat was burglarized for $15,000 worth of fishing gear on Oct. 25 while it was docked in Harbor Marina. The pair combined forced to find the culprit in their break-ins.
The San Juan Capistrano resident’s friend started messaging the seller of a rare, expensive reel on OfferUp that was identical to the one stolen off his boat. The seller eventually agreed to share his cell phone number to discuss a deal.
“If we didn’t get the phone number he would still be stealing stuff,” Thomas said. “I had the resources and determination to go after him.”
Through a background search on the phone number, Thomas identified Garofalo as the OfferUp seller. He agreed to meet for an exchange at a Tustin shopping center, Stanaland said. Newport Beach police took over from this point and made the arrest.
Following the arrest, Stanaland gets recognized around Harbor Island Drive as the woman who knocked on doors to pass out flyers about the burglary with her German Shepherd at her side.
“They say, ‘thank you so much for doing this. We see so many thefts and burglaries in the marina,’” Stanaland said. “It’s just a good feeling knowing that this time a person was caught and that they’ll do time for their crime and think about not doing it again.”
Detectives recovered two rods and a couple of reels that belonged to the Stanalands. They’ve filed a homeowners insurance claim for items that remain missing. Thomas got one fishing rod back.
Although social media has a bad reputation among some people, Rachel wouldn’t have met Thomas without it and the duo would have never been able to put their pieces together, she said.
She hopes other would-be burglars take warning from her story.
“They should also probably know that they shouldn’t steal from a boat called the Huntress because I’ll hunt you down,” she said.