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Police arrest suspect in sale of bogus pitching machines & laptops
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Steven Garcia is led into the Manteca jail by Detective Steve Harris after the short order cook was arrested on fraud charges that involved selling non-existent laptop computers to school secretaries. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Steven Garcia, 53, has been successfully eluding Manteca Police for nearly a year for allegedly selling non-existent laptops and pitching machines to school secretaries and youth baseball coaches.

Police, though, caught their man Wednesday morning.

It was actually 10 years ago when police said the Manteca area short-order cook took orders and cash for pitching machines from coaches in a local baseball program.  Those pitching machines were never delivered, police said.

The laptops were offered to school secretaries in November of last year – near the Thanksgiving holiday – with Garcia taking upfront money and promising deliveries that never happened.  Officers said they have some 20 victims.  The women had given him their personal checks that he reportedly returned to them saying he needed cash because Wells Fargo Bank would not cash them for him.

Detective Steve Harris headed up the investigation. He made the arrest Wednesday morning with the help of Street Crimes Unit detectives Sam Gallego and Clei de Freitas who worked endless hours of surveillance in their search for Garcia.

Undercover officers followed leads that led them to the Stockton Courthouse on Wednesday and they watched Garcia  leave the building and followed him as he drove north on I-5 taking the Benjamin Holt exit.  Harris said they made a traffic stop in the 3700 block of Ben Holt.  He was arrested without resistance, he added.

Garcia was jailed on a no bail warrant from an old case where he had been charged with embezzlement, forgery, receiving stolen property, grand theft, and petty theft with a prior and violated his probationary status.  Bail for the new charges of attempting to sell the laptop computers to the school secretaries carried a bail amount of $100,000.

Detective Harris said when Garcia was taken into custody Wednesday he offered remorse and told officers he was tired of running from police and wanted to pay for what he had done.  He added that the news articles had put “major pressure” on him and on his family – hoping that his arrest Wednesday would not make the paper.

Garcia is scheduled to stand before a judge on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in the Manteca Branch of the San Joaquin County Superior Court on his felony charges with several of his victims expected to be in the gallery.

One of the four secretaries at McParland Elementary School had an instant reaction when she heard of Garcia’s arrest.  “I’m a happy camper.  He has done this to a lot of people, not just me who got burned,” she said.

McParland School staff ordered 7 computers
There were some six or seven computers ordered from McParland, she said, and they were all to be Christmas presents.  She added that a number of people who had seen the story in the paper about Garcia went into the school office to compare notes with her and with other staff members.

“He seemed like he was such a nice guy,” she said.

Police said that the earlier embezzlement conviction was related to forged company checks from at least one of the restaurants – located in French Camp – where he had been employed as a cook.  

Harris said last year that he had a stack of 35 pages of crime history on Garcia in his office.

The McParland secretaries said their scenario began in mid-November when Garcia went to one of their homes in the northwest area of Manteca and showed interest in buying a family car.  They said they knew him through a youth baseball league where all of their kids played ball.  It was that meeting that opened the door to selling the computers.

Garcia was quoted as telling the women he could get the Dell 1525 computers for $275 that were retailing for nearly $1,000.  He claimed he had a relative working for the computer firm in the Silicon Valley who could get a huge price break for him.

“We started getting a little suspicious when he came up with excuse after excuse,” one secretary said.  “I found it hard to believe someone would be conning you when they lived around the corner and you had his phone number,” she stressed.  “And, he didn’t have any samples to show us.”

They said he stalled them by using the pretext of having pancreatic problems similar to those other relatives had died from in recent years.  The women said they told him they wanted their money back and he responded that he was canceling all the orders and would return the money.

After being contacted by officers, Garcia promised to turn himself in to the Manteca Police Department, but that never happened, the detective recalled.  He was suspected to be living in three locations:  Manteca, Fresno and San Jose.

Officer Steve Harris is urging additional victims to call his office at 456-8135.

Harris said those seeking restitution should contact the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office.