Man accused of stealing from WWII veteran arrested, may be linked to other crimes

Posted at 7:19 PM, Jul 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-23 19:52:19-04

EL CAJON, Calif. - A man accused of robbing a World War II veteran of his savings is now in jail, and prosecutors say he may be linked to a string of other thefts.

On Wednesday, a tearful Bob Laesch talked only to 10News about the visit from a repairman that turned into a nightmare.

Two days later, the 90-year-old Laesch was in a far different mood.

"He's where he belongs and what he did ain't right," said Laesch.

El Cajon police confirmed Justin Bridges was taken into custody at the U.S.-Mexico border as he entered San Diego from Mexico Thursday.

"The young man presented himself great and turned out to be a bum," said Laesch.

Laesch said Bridges fixed his air conditioner at his El Cajon mobile home in October, and then came back a month ago, and twice this past week to check the unit.

Laesch told 10News that Bridges claimed to be an Army veteran.

"He told me I reminded [him] of [his] grandfather. I know why he said the line. He's a con artist. I was a dummy; I bit," said Laesch.

After Bridges' visit, Laesch said he discovered his granddaughter's iPhone missing and $10,000 in savings missing from an envelope under his mattress -- his emergency fund for family and charities.

After the 10News story aired, viewers donated in droves to a GoFundMe campaign for Laesch. The fund has raised some $3,500 and counting.

Bridges was arraigned on Friday afternoon.

Prosecutors say Bridges surfaced as a suspect in this case, and he was quickly linked to a series of iPhone thefts at gyms and other public places, allegedly selling them in Mexico.

Those yet-to-be filed cases were described as "pending."

One incident that may be linked stems from surveillance video posted on the East County Emergency Updates Facebook site. The video shows a man swiping a phone from the counter at a gym in El Cajon.

Sources told 10News some of the stolen phones belonged to police officers.

Bridges' bail was set at $125,000, and he must prove any bail money didn't come from the money taken from Laesch.

Laesch's money has yet to be recovered.