Find My iPhone finds two suspected thieves in Silicon Valley

The suspects stole $14,000 in gadgets from a startup incubator, but didn't turn them off

Apple's "Find My iPhone" application led police in Silicon Valley to quickly arrest two suspected thieves after gadgets worth thousands of dollars were taken from a Palo Alto startup incubator.

Staff at the AT&T Foundry arrived at work on Jan. 8 to find three laptops, 15 cell phones, an iPad and other electronics items had been stolen from the facility, which was opened by AT&T to work with local startups on smartphone apps and services.

The gadgets were collectively worth around US$14,000, according to Palo Alto Police Department.

While police officers were still on scene investigating the break in, an AT&T Foundry employee used the "Find My iPhone" application to attempt to detect the location of the stolen iPad and quickly got a hit: a nearby parking lot.

"A patrol officer went to the parking lot and began walking between cars on the off chance they could see any of the stolen property in plain view inside any parked vehicles," the Palo Alto Police Department said. "The officer saw a parked vehicle with a man seated in the passenger seat, and noticed that there were a large amount of items on the rear floorboard of the vehicle that were covered with a jacket."

A check of the vehicle's registration showed that it had been suspended. Shortly after, when it left the parking lot with two passengers inside, the police stopped the car for the registration violation. During that investigation, they found all of the stolen items except for a single cell phone, the police said. The car also contained a crow bar and other tools for prying open doors -- the method used to gain entry to the AT&T Foundry.

As an added bonus for detectives, the car turned out to be stolen. It had been taken from a car dealership in Vallejo, California, almost 100 kilometers north of Palo Alto, sometime since November last year. Staff at the dealership had not noticed the car was missing until contacted by Palo Alto police.

Two suspects, Tania Marin Starr of Vallejo and Gerald Wayne Elliott II of San Francisco, both 31 years old, were arrested for felony commercial burglary, felony vehicle theft and misdemeanor possession of burglary tools.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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