Break-in suspect seen in viral bait-car video is arrested by San Francisco police

ByDan Noyes KGO logo
Saturday, January 6, 2024
EXCLUSIVE: SF break-in suspect seen in bait car video arrested
San Francisco car break-in suspect seen in the viral bait car video by YouTube star Mark Rober has been arrested by police.

SAN FRANCISCO -- New information has emerged about a viral video released last month, pranking Bay Area car burglars.

One of the men caught on hidden camera was arrested by police that same day and was charged with breaking into three cars in a separate incident.

I-Team reporter Dan Noyes, of San Francisco's KGO-TV, worked on that viral video with YouTube star Mark Rober and has continued to follow leads. In this case, he ran the guy's plates. Turns out, he used his own car driving to various break-ins, and KGO found his two criminal cases now underway that raise questions about how well the courts address these crimes.

Former NASA engineer Mark Rober set a trap for the city's car burglars. Twenty-five times over eight months, hidden cameras caught them in the act. Once they absconded with Mark's backpack, it shot out glitter and a foul-smelling spray. And it started a countdown that made the thieves toss the bag. Rober even outfitted one car with bulletproof glass, just for the fun of seeing their frustration.

Then, it was the I-Team's turn to dig a little. Mark Rober told Dan Noyes, "And then you could run the plates and do more of like an in-depth investigation. I mean, the combination of that worked really well."

KGO learned that several of the thieves tried to avoid detection by using stolen license plates on the cars they drove. The I-Team showed Gerald Eisman his stolen plate in Rober's video.

Popular YouTube star Mark Rober releases video pranking those who break into cars in San Francisco with backpacks that shoot glitter.

Dan Noyes: "What do you think about seeing your plate used in a crime like this?"

Gerald Eisman: "Well, I'm grateful that I reported it."

Some had no plates at all - but in one case, the suspect used his own car with his own license plates, and that's how I found 30-year-old Charvel Augustine of San Francisco. On Oct. 12, a Thursday evening, he spots one of Mark Rober's bait cars on Bay Street near the Embarcadero, sees traffic coming, so he gets back in. When it's finally clear, he emerges and strikes.

The backpack that Rober built sends a text that it's been stolen. The onboard cameras catch Augustine going through the bag. A minute later comes the message, "Fart spray cannon fired!" You can hear the servo's motor.

No audible reaction from Augustine, but he throws the bag out the window.

A little over an hour later, Charvel Augustine has made his way to the Palace of Fine Arts and another of Rober's bait cars. From four different angles, you see him break into the car and take the backpack.

MORE: Car break-in victim tracks down property, calls police who admit they know about 'fencing operation'

Once KGO ran his plate and found his information, Noyes checked San Francisco Superior Court records. Get this: After he failed to appear in a car burglary case from July, a judge issued a $35,000 bench warrant for Augustine's arrest. The charges? Second Degree Burglary of Vehicle and Possession of Burglar Tools - what's meant to be a legitimate car escape tool.

In that case, police say they recovered U.S., Indian and Euro currency from Augustine's car, jewelry in a baggie, watches and more. In his criminal complaint, prosecutors cited three "circumstances in aggravatio," "great monetary value," "violent conduct which indicates a serious danger to society" and "prior convictions."

But, in a hearing on Oct. 9, Judge Loretta Giorgi described the case, "Looks like it would be easily settle-able." She dropped the bench warrant and allowed Augustine to leave on his own recognizance.

Three days later, Mark Rober's hidden cameras caught him breaking into those two cars.

That same day, court records show that plainclothes officers out of Central Station shot their own video of Augustine smashing another car window in a different incident, and connected him to two more break-ins - all rental cars. Police had to use a spike strip to keep him from fleeing -- in that same car with the same license plate we spotted. Augustine's latest car burglary charges include an "allegation of felony committed while on bail."

Frank Noto of Stop Crime SF told the I-Team, "You would have thought that sort of thing doesn't happen, but in fact it does."

Noto tells KGO, defendants released while waiting for a trial often commit other crimes and that since the start of last year, the SFPD made 468 felony arrests of suspects who had been freed from custody pending trial.

"That's just crazy," Noto said. "The judges are showing poor judgment there. They're saying this criminal is not going to commit a crime, at least not pending trial. But they're dead wrong."

KGO has been attending Charvel Augustine's court hearings; he has pleaded "not guilty" to all charges. When Noyes approached him, he declined to comment but do those designer jeans look familiar?

His deputy public defender, Bao Doan, also declined to be interviewed, but emailed us that Augustine is "loving and kind," and that he takes care of his sick grandmother. She added "incarceration does not solve poverty or deter auto burglaries."

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins disagreed, her office telling Noyes that incarceration can be a deterrent to criminals committing more crime.