In a case that combines residential theft and cyberstalking, prosecutors say a 32-year-old Chinese national is behind a million-dollar crime spree.
But when, Jicheng "Kevin" Liu allegedly swiped a $500 stroller from a Roscoe Village porch, a very determined mother became an undercover sleuth, despite threats and intimidation.
The mother, who NBC Chicago is calling "Cathy" to protect her real identity, reported the theft of her stroller but later noticed an ad on Craigslist for one that seemed to be very similar to hers. She set up her own sting operation in the parking lot of a Dominick's grocery store and said that when Liu showed up, he was pushing her stroller.
Cathy stalled Liu while her friend called Chicago police. Liu was arrested and charged with petty theft. She got her stroller back but weeks later said strange things began happening: bills for pornographic magazines arrived in the mail, deliveries for unordered food came at all hours of the night and male prostitutes showed up at her door.
Someone was using the Internet to harass Cathy's family. Not even the Chicago police officers involved in her case were immune. One Internet post accused an officer of dealing drugs. Another post said an officer was molesting kids.
All the while, police said the thefts on Chicago's north side continued.
In one incident, a security camera recorded a man, who prosecutors say is Liu, stroll into an apartment complex. While pretending to chat on a cellphone, the man gets inside by opening the door for a resident carrying a bench. The video shows the man casing the place on foot and by elevator. Finally, he grabs delivered packages and makes his way out the door.
Prosecutors said their investigation led them to Liu's rented townhouse in Lincoln Park. What police said they found there was beyond anything anyone on the force had seen. Cathy arrived at the townhouse shortly after the warrant was served.
"When they opened up the garage, and then opened up the curtains in this kitchen and dining room, I was shocked to see what I saw," she said.
The townhouse was packed from floor to ceiling, prosecutors said, with more than 300 packages. Perhaps even more disturbing, Liu had remote controls to 87 garage doors.
"Bikes, strollers, packages that were unopened that had various addresses. I saw someone who lived like a pack rat and a hoarder," Cathy said.
In all, the goods had an estimated value of roughly a million dollars and made up four truckloads. Liu now faces a series of charges including felony theft and cyberstalking. Prosecutors said more charges could be coming.
"In the back of my head I kept thinking to myself, I can't believe he tried to sell my stroller; the one item he tries to sell, even though he kept thousands of times," Cathy said. "He tried to sell my stroller and I felt vindicated that I for some reason was in the right place at the right time to help the community."
Sources close to the case say Liu wired $500,000 to a bank account in Hong Kong before his arrest. Liu has pleaded not guilty in court.