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Police say McDonald's video helped them nail laptop ring

By Rich Phillips, CNN
  • 3,000 computers for military taken from warehouse
  • Ringleader arrested, Florida police say
  • No sensitive data at risk, authorities say

Miami (CNN) -- Police say it was a midnight snack and a trip through a drive-through that led them to thieves who stole thousands of high-grade military laptops last year.

Last March, a group broke into military contractor iGov Technologies' Tampa, Florida, warehouse, where about 3,000 laptops were being stored. While a gang of about 10 were loading the computers onto semi-trucks, police say, the ringleader, Rolando Coca, was caught on a nearby McDonald's security camera, going through the drive-through.

"That's really what this came down to," said Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee.

During the day, witnesses had noticed a red Lincoln Navigator in the area. A canvassing of local businesses by investigators, uncovered the videotape of Coca, in the driver's seat, ordering a meal at the Tampa McDonald's.

Coca, an immigrant who came to the U.S. during the Mariel boatlift in 1980, was arrested in Miami, where about 1,900 of the laptops were being stored in a nearby abandoned warehouse in Opa Locka, Florida.

Police say they have bought back a handful of them in two sting operation, but about 1,000 remain on the street.

"We continue to find these computers on Amazon and eBay," said Sheriff David Gee.

Investigators say the laptops contained no sensitive information.

"There was no kind of information on these laptops, that if they got out, it would hurt us," said Steve Ibison, FBI special agent in charge.

The company, iGov Technologies, is a private contractor for U.S. Special Operations. They are classified as a top-secret facility supplying communications and computers to military forces. The laptops are heavy-duty, rugged computers that can be used by the military in extreme field conditions. Part of the Tampa warehouse contained sensitive military equipment, but the thieves did not access that area, police say.

The thieves got into the building through the roof, and spent about nine hours at the warehouse, unloading the equipment, police say.

So far, two arrests have been made, but the investigation continues. More arrests are expected. The authorities would not say how the ring knew the computers were inside the warehouse.

iGov Technologies says it is cooperating in the probe.

"We're declining to comment at this time, since it's an ongoing investigation and a police matter," said Tom Walsh, the vice president of contracts.

Investigators say the computers, which normally sell from $2,800 up to $5,000, are being sold on the street for about $500.