Detractors Not Impressed by SF DA Boudin’s Announcement of Arrests, Recovery of $2 Million in Retail Theft Sting Operation

By S. Priana Aquino

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin this week announced the recovery of $2 million of allegedly stolen goods in a previously announced two-year organized retail theft sting operation that led to two indictments and five arrest warrants.

But Boudin—facing a June recall—didn’t impress his detractors, apparently.

In a tweet from Boudin’s Twitter account on Tuesday, Boudin congratulated his team for the stolen goods recovery, writing, “Great work by our @SFDAOffice team in leading this operation, which recovered over $2 million of stolen goods.”

Responses to this tweet were negative towards Boudin.

One user replied, “Please let us know when someone actually suffers some consequences for these crimes. Otherwise, it is nothing more than pre-recall PR fluff.”

Another user replied, “They stole them because they knew you don’t prosecute. Funny you’re posting these posts when you do quite the opposite. SF is out of control because of you. Criminals know you don’t prosecute.”

Thomas Ostly, former Assistant District Attorney, tweeted, “I was the prosecutor on Focus Lens and Wrecking Ball. @chesaboudin took two years to do anything with the cases while retail theft went up exponentially. The incompetence is staggering.”

Dubbed “Operation Focus Lens,” the District Attorney’s office used a camera repair shop and second-hand store in the Tenderloin as a front for reselling stolen clothing items.

The well-reviewed Camera Heaven at 746 Larkin Street, in the Little Saigon sub-neighborhood of the Tenderloin, allowed investigators to recover $2 million worth of allegedly stolen goods.

“My office is committed to combatting organized retail theft by targeting the source: the fencers who are profiting from the reselling of stolen goods. I am proud of our office’s leadership in uncovering this global operation,” said Boudin in a statement accompanying the announcement.

“I am also thankful to the many law enforcement agencies who partnered with us and helped us successfully recover stolen goods and identify individuals responsible for driving organized retail thefts in San Francisco,” he continued.

This announcement comes during the district attorney’s maximized efforts to crack down on retail crime in San Francisco.

Boudin has stressed throughout this year that he wanted to “prosecute those behind the fencing operations that make retail theft profitable — less so the lower-level thieves themselves, though the pressure is on to deter crime at all levels”

This win for the DA’s office originated from an earlier effort, Operation Wrecking Ball, that targeted the resellers of stolen goods at 7th and Market Streets.

Investigators with the DA’s Office and SFPD, were investigating thefts at the Macy’s in Union Square in December 2019. That led them to the arrest of Rodolfo Castillo, an individual they observed stealing $7,500 in merchandise from the store, including an entire rack of clothing and a shipping box full of shoes.

Castillo then led investigators to Camera Heaven’s owners, David Tran and Yanxia Xie, to whom he was allegedly selling stolen goods. Tran and Xie were allegedly sending goods by mail to one Nate Pham in Vietnam, and a warrant is out for Pham’s arrest.

Additional indictments in the sting included vintage clothing and consignment store Fashion Exchange owners, Deanna Klinkovich and Floriya Pavlichenko.

In August, the DA’s office charged the two with possession of stolen property, with their case currently pending

Kevin Domby, a lieutenant with CHP, added in a statement, “Organized retail crime needs an organized, collaborative response.”

Domby added that “the vast amount of recovered stolen property and now arrests from Operation Focus Lens, an operation that began in 2019, ensures those directing and benefiting the most from these crimes will now be held to answer.”

About The Author

S. Priana Aquino is a rising Senior at the University of San Francisco, majoring in Business with minors in Legal Studies and Public Service & Community Engagement. Upon graduation, she hopes to attend law school and continue her work in uplifting and advocating for communities of color.

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3 Comments

  1. Keith Olson

    One user replied, “Please let us know when someone actually suffers some consequences for these crimes. Otherwise, it is nothing more than pre-recall PR fluff.”

    Another user replied, “They stole them because they knew you don’t prosecute. Funny you’re posting these posts when you do quite the opposite. SF is out of control because of you. Criminals know you don’t prosecute.”

    Thomas Ostly, former Assistant District Attorney, tweeted, “I was the prosecutor on Focus Lens and Wrecking Ball. @chesaboudin took two years to do anything with the cases while retail theft went up exponentially. The incompetence is staggering.”

    These are all valid points.

  2. PhillipColeman

    Why is a county district attorney–whose primary responsibility is to review for possible prosecution cases submitted by county police agencies–running its own street law enforcement operation policed by district attorney investigators in the role of undercover agents?

    District attorney investigators have a vital and well-defined job role as well, assisting the prosecuting attorney in pending or active court cases in the final preparations for trial. This includes finding elusive witnesses, verifying or refuting last-minute claims by defense counsel to discredit the prosecution.

    The District Attorney of San Francisco has, apparently, enough spare time and extra personnel resources to operate and supervise his own sting operation. “Fence Stings” and “Hierarchy Drug Investigations” by the way, are the most costly and time-consuming of all criminal investigations. They consume months and even years of taxpayer-funded resources.

    Further, our country’s system of checks and balances to protect every person arrested for a suspected offense includes a separate review by a prosecuting attorney. He/She screens all arrests prior to prosecution and rejects all illegal and insufficient evidence cases.

    To remain true to this basic Constitutional protection, a prosecutor reviewing his own investigation is compromised. By definition, this is a “conflict of interest.” Properly, all such cases should be forwarded to the State Attorney General.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Why is a county district attorney–whose primary responsibility is to review for possible prosecution cases submitted by county police agencies–running its own street law enforcement operation policed by district attorney investigators in the role of undercover agents?”

      Seems to be a very common occurrence.

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