NEWPORT BEACH— A 32-year-old man who called Harbor Police shortly after stealing an 80-foot yacht from Balboa Island was apprehended near the Long Beach breakwater, Friday, June 27.
Richard Marco Rodriguez of Whittier, California was booked by the Long Beach Police Department for Boating Under the Influence, grand theft of a vessel, making criminal threats and assault on a police officer—all felony counts—according to department spokesperson, Nancy Pratt. Rodriguez is being held on $150,000 bail, which includes a $30,000 forgery fraud warrant.
According to officials with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Rodriguez commandeered the vessel, Stimulus, at 7:55 a.m. on Thursday, June 26. After the luxury yacht lost power backing out of the privately-owned dock slip at Balboa Island, it began drifting toward the seawall. It was then that Rodriguez called for help on VHF Channel 16.
“Deputies responded and secured the vessel, towing it to safety in the anchorage area of the harbor,” Orange County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. D.J. Haldeman said.
As officers questioned him, Rodriguez claimed that he was hired by the owner of the vessel to transport it to Mexico. He admitted being inexperienced in operating a large vessel. Rodriguez was the only person onboard.
“On our end, as far as we know, everything seemed to check out with us,” Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol Harbormaster Mike Jansen said. “So we let him leave the anchorage.”
The responding deputies obtained Coast Guard vessel documentation showing the owner as Oceaner Adventurers out of Los Angeles. However, an attempt to contact the registered owner was unsuccessful, and with no holds associated to the vessel, Rodriguez was free to leave around 9:30 a.m.
“He was very calm—nothing suspicious about him,” Haldeman said. “He was very happy to see us and very happy that we saved the vessel. He was just like everybody else who contacts us out here.”
But Rodriguez’s journey was just getting started.
At 1:30 a.m. the next morning (June 27), Coastal Border Patrol Agents cited a 14-foot inflatable vessel drift ashore south of Crystal Cove Beach. With no one aboard, officials monitored the dinghy.
“About five hours later when the sun began to rise, coastal border patrol notified state lifeguards,” Haldeman said. “At 9:30 a.m. the owner of the stimulus, identified as Greg Briles, contacted Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol advising that his vessel had been stolen. Newport Beach Police Department was contacted and handled the stolen vessel report.”
An hour later, state lifeguards contacted Harbor Patrol advising them that the inflatable hull had washed ashore. Deputies later confirmed the dinghy belonged to Stimulus, and it was later released to the yacht’s captain, Craig Brewer. Attempts to contact both Brewer and Briles were unsuccessful.
At 1:30 p.m., the Coast Guard near Alamitos Bay reported an unknown subject broadcasting violent threats against President Barack Obama over VHF Chanel 16. The tirade went on for more than 30 minutes.
Rodriguez and the boat were then spotted inside the breakwater, and law enforcement officials approached the boat for driving erratically, according to Pratt.
“They attempted to stop the boat to detain the driver…and he wasn’t complying,” Pratt said. “He was yelling and making verbal threats toward the officers. At one point he attempted to crash into our police boat. We requested the assistance of the coast guard in addition to L.A. Port police. They responded and eventually we were able to get the suspect to stop.”
Officials boarded the boat and Rodriguez was taken into custody.
Stimulus is currently docked in Alamitos Bay, according to Pratt. The yacht had reportedly been berthed in Balboa Island for four years.
“This wasn’t like a boat stop or someone that is under suspicion at the time,” Jansen said of Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol’s initial response. “Somebody’s getting on the radio and asking for assistance. Unless there was something that triggered the deputies at the time to do more investigation, at that point, there wasn’t. It turned out to be we should have done some more, but there was nothing at the time.”
Rodriguez reportedly broke into the vessel initially through the forward hatch, but the two officers who responded to the stalled engine did not see any damage to the vessel. Rodriguez was familiar with the location of the remote anchorage switch.
“He knew the startup sequence. A vessel that large you just don’t turn the key and the engine comes on,” Haldeman said. “There wasn’t anything that appeared to be pried or forced open.”
A report by Los Angeles’ KTLA showed a snapshot of the yacht floating near a slip in Newport Beach alongside an Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol vessel, leaving many to wonder who took the photo.
Haldeman said a nearby homeowner may have had a security camera.
“That’s the million dollar question,” he said. “Whoever took the picture thought there was something suspicious about it. I wish they would have called us.”
Jansen added that instances of stolen vessels in Newport are “very unusual.”
“I can tell you this rarely happen,” Jansen said.