A man involved in the theft of a football signed and auctioned off by NFL great Jerry Rice at a Milpitas fundraiser on April 9 for Chinese orphans with special needs has turned himself in.
After the live auction, 45-year-old San Jose resident Patrick Van Lam was caught on surveillance video at the Koi Palace Seafood Restaurant grabbing the football and walking out with it. Once Lam realized his image from the video was released to local media he surrendered to detectives last Friday night, according to Milpitas police Sgt. Joe Heylen.
Lam, who returned the football, was booked into Santa Clara County jail for burglary and grand theft on Saturday morning, Heylen said.
Milpitas police are still seeking the public’s help in identifying one additional male suspect and two men and a woman authorities are calling persons of interest. All of whom were seated together at the same dinner table at the restaurant. Lam and the other suspect, who were not associated with the fundraiser, worked in tandem to steal the football, according to police.
Heylen said he did not know if Lam was asked to identify the other suspect as well as those individuals he was sitting with at the restaurant.
“It was not asked or mentioned in the report,” he added.
On Monday, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said Lam was released from jail on $20,000 bail.
The football, which went for $3,500 to orphanage supporter Amy Fu, was stolen from the check-in counter at the restaurant at 768 Barber Lane when Fu left it briefly unattended to take a photo.
About 270 people, including former 49ers wide receiver Rice, attended the “Share the Love” event, which raised money for the charitable arm of the Hayward-based distributor of muscle analgesic Tiger Balm.
That distributor runs the nonprofit POP’s Foundation, which manages and finances an orphanage, the Prince of Peace Children’s Home in Tianjin, a municipality in northeast China.
“As she tried to leave for the evening, they asked her to go back to the banquet hall to take the photo and the football was left in the check-in counter,” Maisie Chan, assistant director of the POP’s Foundation, said last Thursday. “Someone passed by and grabbed the ball and just ran off.”
Ken Yeung, CEO and founder of Prince of Peace Enterprises Inc., said Fu intended to take the football back to the orphanage to show the children “that people that are so far away also care about you, they raise money to help you for surgery and all these other things, so one day you may be adopted.”
He said Fu was shocked that something like this could happen in an “upscale restaurant” in the United States.
Surveillance video shared with the Post shows a man, later identified as Lam, in a checkered shirt and jeans grabbing the football off the table and walking off with it.
Fu, who speaks Cantonese, reported the theft online in “the late hours of April 11,” according to police. On April 13, Sgt. Abbie Serrano said the investigation into the theft of the autographed football had just started.
Serrano added a theft of anything valued at more than $950 is considered grand theft, a felony.
Yeung said Fu just asked for the football to be returned and is not interested in filing charges against whoever took it.
Heylen said that despite the bidder of the football asking for charges to not be filed if the football was returned, Lam was arrested because of how much it was bid for, $3,500.
“It’s not like stealing gum, it’s grand theft. Whether or not someone wants prosecution if we have probable cause of them doing it, they are going to get booked and charged for the felony,” Heylen said Monday.
Yeung and Chan said they do not believe Lam was an attendee of the fundraiser. They say while the event was going on in the banquet hall, the restaurant was still open to the public. Chan said it was likely someone who walked into the restaurant stole the football.
Rice, who is a spokesman for Tiger Balm, signed another football for Fu after hearing of the theft. But Fu still wanted the one she won at auction returned, Chan said.
The stolen football was among three Rice items auctioned at the fundraiser — another football sold for $2,000 and a helmet sold for $10,000.
This is the second time the foundation has hosted a fundraiser at Koi Palace, which donated the space and food; the first time was in 2009. The orphanage, established in 2003 by Yeung, is the first nonprofit allowed by the Chinese government to operate in the country that is run by a U.S. management team.
“We do rehab and surgery, and because our kids are orphans with special needs we do a lot of work” to help them get adopted, Yeung said.
He added that since the orphanage started, 45 children out of 144 assigned there have been adopted by families in the United States and Canada.
Yeung said having the orphanage in Tianjin has special significance to him and his wife because that’s where they adopted their daughter.
Although the foundation was still calculating donations from the Milpitas fundraiser, Chan said the event amassed nearly $250,000.
Anyone with any information regarding the investigation, suspects, or persons of interest is asked to call the Milpitas Police Department at (408) 586-2400. Additionally, information can be given anonymously by calling the Crime Tip Hotline at (408) 586-2500 or via the Milpitas Police Department website at: http://www.ci.milpitas.ca.gov/crimetip.