Tracking a stolen laptop triggers a drug bust

When then folks from the MakerShed had a laptop and iPad stolen from their vehicle in Detroit, they found out several important things.

  • The Detroit police have more important things to pursue.
  • Tracking services are awesome.
  • You never know how your adventure will end.

Luckily they were using an online backup system that offered location services as well. While many may disable these prying eyes as a matter of principle when they join, this is one scenario where you’d be happy you had it.

As it turns out, the Detroit police were fairly busy with other things and left the laptop owners to their own devices tracking the stolen goods via the internet. Some fun and interesting detective work involving Google maps, craigslist,  and backed up images ended up leading them to the stolen goods.

Once they had a physical address, the police were available to check things out… well, a few days later. When they went to the address with a search warrant… and a battering ram, they found the house lacking tenants, but containing several forms of ID, a stolen laptop, and some Marijuana meant for distribution.

The entire story is interesting, especially the fact that the amateur detective work was capable of providing enough information for a search warrant. This actually makes me wonder how easily one could fabricate all of this information falsely to cause trouble to an innocent person. It looks like it would only take about 15 minutes and some photoshop. Maybe that’s a conversation best left for another time.

52 thoughts on “Tracking a stolen laptop triggers a drug bust

  1. I’d just like to put out there that Detroit has huge areas devoid of buildings that aren’t condemned, foreclosed, or abandoned.

    It is an eerie thing walk or drive into an area where you see no signs of life for blocks in every direction. No people, no dogs, not even the sounds of birds. Northern parts of Flint are similar.

    This fact combined with a city core that officially has 800k residents and more than one murder a day between them makes this news not surprising.

    I’d rather live in Baghdad than Detroit. It’s safer and has better housing.

    1. He’s right. I work in a hospital in Detroit on trauma floor and have my pager go off at least 3 times a night for a gsw (gun shot wound) or stabbing.

  2. Or, you know, you could just cause trouble for an innocent person by breaking into their apartment and stealing their laptop. You’d probably get into less trouble for it.

    (Hint: Committing a crime that involves identifying yourself to the police and giving them most of the evidence is many kinds of dumb.)

  3. I have a question: How do you know that the guy who possessed the laptop was the one who stole it? What if he just bought the thing from someone else?

    Sure you can say ‘well he had priors for drugs and was on probation for drugs’ but there’s a reason that THAT isn’t admissible in court due to it being unrelated.

    How do you know that some innocent guy who hadn’t done anything to hurt anyone got screwed over here?

    1. Also, even if he had bought it from someone else, and could prove it thus incriminating the real thief and removing those charges from himself… He would still be in prison for a long time due to parole violations and victimless crime.

      Hypothetically, of course.

      1. At least here in New Zealand, the law saws something about ‘being in receipt of stolen goods’. You wouldn’t get in trouble for it, but they can be confiscated and returned to their owner with little comeback. Basically it forces people to be careful when they buy things second hand, and to not buy stuff where the ‘owner’ has no clue about the item, serial numbers are missing, etc etc.

      2. Receiving Stolen Goods is indeed a criminal charge, which I believe varies from misdemeanor to felony depending on the value of the items and the location.

      3. @ Snap
        We have similar laws where I live in Canada. Pawn shops occasionally get stung after buying goods that turn out to be stolen. They hand them over to the police, and they’re out the cost.

  4. Have nothing but contempt for most* thieves, but it sucks that taxpayers some where are going to pay for incarcerating someone over a substance that shouldn’t have been criminalized in the first place. * Those rare cases where a person has to steal for basic survival is where I could make an exception based on circumstances. Yea it may be easy to frame someone for theft using a portable computer of some sort, but it could backfire in so many ways.

    1. if “drugs” were involved, probably nothing. Or – if it were a crooked cop, most likely nothing unless it was way over the top.

      the “crime” of “drug possession” is trivial to create and almost impossible to defend against.

      I am not surprised the cops did nothing until handed the case on a silver platter. Property crimes are almost never investigated, unless you are a relative of Steve Jobs.

      Sigh.

  5. If it wasn’t the underground it would 20ed to a pawn shop. Perhaps if they waited a little longer it would have made it there.

  6. Somehow I wonder if this is the full story. I don’t quite believe the police would take action on this kind of information for a relatively minor theft. I’m thinking the police had some information the wern’t legaly allowed to have (maybe they wiretapped a lawyer or bribed/threatened someone) and they needed an excuse to check out the inside of the house.

    1. Possibly, but I’ve been involved in a similar situation regarding a cell phone. The police were more than happy to cooperate by being present, but concealed, when the thief tried to “ransom” said cell phone. Maybe they assume that by catching the thief they’re likely to find evidence of other crimes as well.

  7. personally I would like to have a small C4 + thermite module in my laptop… if it ever gets stolen it explodes after 2 weeks or so… presumably in the house of the thief and kills him and his entire family… cool don’t ya think ?

      1. googled that and damn… that’s big… I don’t think you need a lot to cause some serious damage you know… mind you that even a fuse itself is enough to maim or kill… besides it would be enough to spread incediary all over the place so IMHO you need as little volume as that of a lighter… I always dreamed about something along these lines – you steal shit – you get your arms blown off… it’s a pity it’s not legal

      2. It’s all well and good until the day you forget the system, or your mum borrows it and blows herself all to shit or you try to take it through airport security.

    1. The Israeli intelligence service did this in a cell phone with the Palestinian guy, known as “The Engineer” because he created the design for most suicide vests. They got a mole into his inner circle. The Engineer would swap cell phones frequently. They got the rigged cell phone to the mole, who gave it to the Engineer. The Engineer was on the phone to his father, when they triggered the C4 (which was half of the battery).

      BTW – The Engineer was really one – university degree, etc. Not sure what – chemical I think.

      Not someone I am going to mourn.

  8. hrmm.. triggers a drug bust.
    but the house was full of dried herbs.
    where’s the crack, heroin, and pCP?
    just fckin with ya, but i wouldn’t expect some mari ju wana dealers to come busting caps in makershed. leave that to the meth,coke etc. dealers. that shit actually takes work to make. lost all your weed in a bust? no loss really, when its not like $100/gram like actual ‘drugs’ and its just made out of rainbows & sunshine.

  9. The headline is a bit deceptive; weed is no more of a drug than coffe beans. Glad to see they got their hardware back, but sad to see some harmless plant distributor got in trouble for trading for what turned out to be stolen goods.

    1. I’m all for holding HaD and other blogs to a modicum of grammar and journalistic integrity but how is it deceptive?
      A laptop that was stolen was then tracked to a property. When authorities arrived at the property in question large amounts of an illegal/controlled substance(drugs) were found along with the stolen laptop. Had the owners of the laptop not tracked it to the property local authorities most likely would not have confiscated the drugs.

      World governments don’t spend millions of dollars annually trying to stem the trafficking of coffee beans across and within their boarders.

      1. Coffee was illegal in parts of Europe after it was brought back. Sometimes on pain of death. Also tobacco. The USA tried it with alcohol. Worked about as well as the current War on Some Drugs, ie really poorly.

        BTW – the CDC in the US reports about 200 deaths every year from caffeine. In the recorded history of pot: 0 deaths from OD. The THC receptors in the brain just hit max && reject any more. Gotta ask why there are THC receptors in the brain …

      2. Coffee is the second largest traded commodity in the world, only below oil. It’s is very likely governments do spend millions legally moving it.

      3. The government also spends a ton on stopping the sale of whole milk (they even made it illegal for farmers to drink the milk from their own cows). Just because something is a controlled substance does not make it a drug. TCH is a drug…and if the guy had TCH pills, those would be drugs…but marijuana is just plant clippings.

    1. well if you want to swat someone then your best bet is to use wifi and hope they didn’t use encryption… what stops you from downloading illegal content or even child pornography solely for the puprporse of getting the owner of the router into troubles? Stolen laptop would be ideal for this as you don’t even have to care to change MAC

      1. Scanning government IP blocks might be faster, and probably a lot easier for most people than finding child porn. Also, MAC addresses are easily spoofed, you could even clone someone elses if they’re not on the same network at the same time as you.

  10. @randomdude
    One could download illegal content from a(n) weakly or un-encrypted network but unless you manage to find the honeypot on your first try you’re not going to get the authorities there on a timescale that is useful to those so inclinded.

    @ Bandit
    I’m not talking about Europe +100 years ago where many things we do now were illegal, I’m talking about the developed world today.

    You can also find thousands of death related to inhalation of water, hundreds related to ingestion of too much water, there is little value in your statistic(particularly to me).

    Calling the receptors in your brain ‘THC receptors’ would be like calling dopamine receptors ‘ecstacy receptors’ or taste buds ‘saccharin recptors’. Literally dozens of compounds will fit into that receptor and all but one of them are THC. They are the same family of compound but correlation is hardly causation.

    1. They are actually called Cannabinoid receptors. There are only three classes of compounds that work on them…one class is only found in cannabis plants, one class are chemicals engineered to copy compounds from the cannabis plant, which are not found in nature (it does not matter if you believe in creation or evolution, you don’t believe the brain was designed for these…these were designed for the brain). The last class are the endocannabinoids created by all mammals…compounds that have been clearly shown not only to be very important but which have also been shown to be very lacking in some individuals. Like plant cannabinoids, these reduce inflamation and pain, and increase happiness. Considering all the dangerous, addictive, expensive, and suicide inspiring anti-depressants on the market, it is no wonder big pharma spends so much fighting legalization.

    2. My point about various drugs in European history (caffeine, tobacco, etc) and US alcohol prohibition is simple: it *never* works. Not if the People have the concept of personal freedom.

      Simple question: can you keep drugs out of prison without extreme measures (ie going supermax).

      Question: if the State needs to goto supermax conditions to keep drugs out of prison, how can the State keep drugs out of a free society?

  11. Headline says ‘drugs bust’ and then it turns out to be weed.. come on now guys.

    And I bet the cops already wanted to raid that place and they just conveniently used the laptop thing to get a warrant.

  12. headlines
    “Man tries to turn himself in to Detroit Police in connection with shootings, told no one available”
    Read more: http://www.wxyz.com/dpp/news/region/detroit/man-tries-to-turn-himself-into-detroit-police-in-connection-with-shootings-told-no-one-available#ixzz25KzO6NrW

    “Suspected gunman has trouble trying to turn himself in”
    “http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/Suspected-gunman-has-trouble-trying-to-turn-himself-in/-/1719418/16457558/-/4mad2/-/index.html”

    1. I guess murder is not a high priority once the victims are dead. Maybe if he had walked into the fire house and threatened to kill a few of them he would have gotten faster service.

  13. the sad thing is they didn’t catch the thief, and they didn’t find the real drugs, because the thief most likely stole the laptop and traded it for something far more illicit than dried plants. unless, of course, the thief traded the laptop for the dried plants, and traded the dried plants for whatever they were really after. thieves suck. i’m all for loading up an iphone with c4 and going into a shady neighborhood brandishing my shiny iphone and letting some thug feel all powerful when i be like ‘oh noes, pweez don’t kill me sir, take it take it!’ then walk a block away and detonate via Android :) one less iPhone, one less chav, and the chance to watch a pretty fiery bloodbath. WIN!

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