NewsTeam 10 Investigates


'Serial' luggage thief caught on camera stealing bags from San Diego's airport

Travel expert says it's becoming a common crime at airports
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Posted at 9:00 PM, Oct 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-03 00:00:02-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A ‘serial’ baggage thief managed to steal more than a dozen pieces of luggage from the San Diego International Airport earlier this year, ABC 10News has learned.

Some of the convicted criminal’s victims are still wondering what happened to their belongings more than eight months after their suitcases were stolen from baggage carousels inside the airport.

Idaho resident Carl Jelsovsky is one of the travelers who had his suitcase snatched. He said he was in disbelief when a Harbor Police officer told him his bag was stolen, not lost.

“What am I going to do now because I have no pajamas, no change of underwear. No nothing. I had nothing,” he recalled in an interview with ABC 10News investigative reporter Austin Grabish.

Inside the senior’s bag was clothing for his vacation to San Diego with his wife including a beloved Padres tie he wears to Sunday church.

“We're big San Diego Padres fans. The tie I miss,” he said.

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Idaho residents Cody and Carl Jelsovsky had their suitcase stolen earlier this year. The couple said they regretted stopping to use the restroom before picking up their bag from the airport carousel.

Internal Harbor Police documents obtained through a public records request by Team 10 show a man named Alberto Estrada was busted for swiping some bags back in February.

Estrada was later linked to several stolen bag investigations and charged with grand theft of personal property, burglary, receiving stolen property and petty theft.

Court records show he plead guilty to 22 counts of burglary charges and was sentenced to 180 days in county jail in April. A judge ordered him to stay away from the airport unless he has a plane ticket as part of his probation.

Team 10 started investigating the thefts after getting a tip that someone was stealing bags from the airport and taking them to North County to sell the items at a swap meet.

Filled truck with bags: witness

According to an affidavit filed by a Harbor Police officer in support of a search warrant for Estrada’s phone, officers found key cards for two hotels in Escondido when they arrested him near the airport on February 1st.

A Quality Inn employee in Escondido told police “They thought it was odd because Estrada had a large amount of luggage visible in the bed of his truck,” according to the affidavit.

The document says Estrada was caught on camera at the Quality Inn with another man loading his vehicle with stolen property. But by the time police had gone to Escondido, Estrada had already checked out of the hotel.

But he hadn’t gone far.

In fact, Estrada still had a room at the Motel 6 across the street. Police got a search warrant and found several suitcases and other stolen items from the airport in his room, the affidavit says.

A spokesperson for Motel 6 said there is nothing more important to the company than the safety of its guests.

“We do not condone unlawful behavior of any kind and we always do everything we can to assist law enforcement with any investigations.”

'The thieves are out there'

Harbor Police Detective Sgt. Daniel Moen said after several reports of stolen bags were filed during a single day in January, police noticed the luggage had all disappeared from the same carousel.

“So that was kind of the clue. Hey, there's somebody's getting a little more aggressive and taking a lot of bags at once,” he told Grabish.

The managing editor of The Points Guy travel website said he advises air passengers to avoid checking valuables into baggage and tries to not check a bag at all.

“The thieves are out there, and it does seem to be an increasing crime that we hear about,” said Clint Henderson in an interview from New York.

Henderson said compensation for stolen bags from most airlines usually caps at around $1,500.00.

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Harbor Police Detective Sgt. Daniel Moen

That’s why he recommends travelers book their flights on a credit card that has up to $3,000 in insurance for lost or stolen luggage.

Moen said this year, 54 reports of stolen luggage have been made, but the number could be higher because it doesn’t reflect reports made to airlines.

Last year, he said police received 96 reports of stolen bags from the airport.

Moen urges travelers to use caution and get to the baggage carousel quickly.

Odds of having bag stolen low: police

“You should still be smart and don't think ‘oh, it'll never get stolen.’ You know it could. There's thieves in the world.”

But he said with over a million people coming through San Diego’s airport a month, the odds of having a bag stolen are slim.

Jelsovsky still wonders what happened to his suitcase and the clothes inside it.

Moen said detectives found several bags without tags at the motel and tried to get as many items reunited with victims as possible.

But Jelsovsky’s bag never surfaced.

“I mean, this guy's got gull, he’s got guts to do that repeatedly,” Jelsovsky said adding he doesn’t stop at the restroom after getting off flights now.

And remember that beloved Padres tie? Jelsovsky’s friend got him a surprise replica.

“It was a very special moment for me.”

This story came as a result of a tip to investigative reporter Austin Grabish. Do you have a story to share? Email