A sister and brother have admitted over-ordering hundreds of new MacBooks for "a private university" in Silicon Valley to steal and sell the expensive gear for millions of dollars.
Patricia Castaneda, 37, of San Carlos, California, worked at the university’s School of Humanities and Sciences, and was responsible for ordering replacement laptops for the faculty and its staff who were entitled to a new one every three years.
Over the course of ten years, starting in 2009, she methodically over-ordered and then sold them on, initially for cash through ads on Craigslist, and then through a man she met through one Craigslist ad, again in cash.
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That man, prosecutors say [PDF], “moved to Central America” in 2014, though he connected her with another man who paid her for the laptops through PayPal, creating a paper trail.
Six years in, she started giving the computers to her brother, Eric Castaneda, 36, of Redwood City, who sold them to another man they had met through a Craigslist ad who lived in Folsom, California, who then shipped them out of the US state.
Prosecutors gained access [PDF] to Eric’s texts which showed him discussing the sale of laptops – codenamed "ingots" for a short while – from his sister and negotiating a price.
From the plea agreement, the conversations went:
- Folsom man: Hey man, did you talk to your sister at all about getting more computers?...
- Eric Castaneda: About how many u looking for? If we can get more I just don’t want to be stuck with any u know?
- Folsom man: I would literally buy 100 if there were there…
- Castaneda: What's up bud? How u doing? My guy has 5-MPTT2LL/A [MacBooks] he wants 2300 for since these are priced at 2799. I believe also 2-MPXY2LL/A [MacBooks] 1700 but I'd have to confirm on that 13" - 15" he has though if ur interested
- Folsom man: Hey buddy ... can he did $2250 and $1650?
Even those dealing in stolen MacBooks, it turns out, get frustrated with Apple product rollouts:
- Folsom: We have a bit of an issue… Apple released new laptops today
- Folsom: Let me know what you want to do. My buyer is not buying for now until he figures out what price they' II be trading for ... so I 'II be stuck with them, which is fine. But needless to say I'll have to buy them for less. I hate when Apple does this shit …
- Castaneda: I won't be able to get those for about 2-3 months. im fine with going lower but I have to check with my guy. How much are we talking here and I'll see if he's ok with it
- Folsom: That's fine. Let's do $1,900 on this round if I can get them today ... I'll be able to ship and lock in whatever price I get back later today.
Needless to say, it wasn’t hard to persuade the Castanedas to plead guilty to the charges against them.
In total, prosecutors estimate Patricia cost the university at least $4m total through her wheeler dealing, and that includes the 800 MacBooks worth $2.3m Eric flogged to his guy in Folsom. Patricia pleaded guilty to theft, and her brother to conspiracy to transport stolen property interstate.
She faces a maximum of 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine; he is facing five years and a similar $250,000 fine. They will be sentenced on June 7. It’s not clear how the university – reported to be Stanford – failed to notice hundreds of laptops disappearing over a decade, though you can probably use your imagination. ®