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In LA, a spate of high-profile Lego heists have taken place. But why?

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

A string of Lego heists has hit the greater Los Angeles area. Yes, Legos, the toy bricks. In recent months, police say Lego larcenists have swiped hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth breaking into small businesses or stealing them from big box stores. The thieves are targeting a very specific type of Lego - the minifig. Reporter Daniel Miller wrote a story about this for the LA Times. Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL MILLER: Hey, thanks so much for having me.

FLORIDO: OK, so what is a minifig?

MILLER: The minifig is the little Lego figurine that's about 1.5 inches tall. And they come in a variety of different themes. You've got firefighters, policemen. Then, of course, you've got "Star Wars" characters and Marvel characters and some of those ones tied to very well-known IP. Those are the ones that thieves covet.

FLORIDO: What's made them such a valuable target for thieves?

MILLER: Basically, since the pandemic, the collectible Lego market has been on a bull run. You know, in 2020 and 2021, people had plenty of time on their hand, and they started amassing these larger and larger collections. And prices went up as a result. And the most valuable Lego minifigs can sell for more than $1,000.

FLORIDO: Wow.

MILLER: And yeah, it's an astounding figure. You know, there's a very limited edition Spider-Man minifig, and those are worth more than $5,000 apiece. These are really remarkable numbers. But as the prices have gone up, thieves have been paying attention, too.

FLORIDO: These are little toys about the size of the tip of your finger. Tell us about these Lego heists. What's been happening?

MILLER: There have been seven Lego heists in Southern California since April, and we obtained security footage of at least one of these crimes. And in the video, you see a hooded man break the front glass of a store and quickly run into the store with a black garbage bag and fill it up with fistfuls of minifigures and dash out. The entire episode lasts about one minute, and in that case, this was the burglary of a shop in Whittier, Calif. About $10,000 of minifigures were stolen.

FLORIDO: Are these people who are just huge fans of minifigs? Are they reselling them? Like, what's going on here?

MILLER: The authorities have said very little about the people involved in these crimes, so we don't actually know if they are Lego collectors - although in talking to people who are involved in either the investigations or just closely following the industry, we have a sense that they are not, in fact, collectors, and instead are criminals who see an opportunity. And in talking to people, we learned that there's a pretty healthy black market for high-end Legos. And these, you know, pilfered items are being sold on Facebook Marketplace. They're being sold on eBay. It would seem that the people who buy them have effectively no idea that they're buying stolen goods.

FLORIDO: Is the company saying anything about this string of thefts?

MILLER: Lego is certainly aware of the trafficking of stolen merchandise. I reached out to the company for comment, and I was directed to a website maintained by Lego that helps consumers identify fake Lego stores, among other aids. You know, I think this is something that's really captivated the Lego fan community. This is sort of a cloistered world, and, you know, getting national media attention is surprising. And I think it's also especially surprising to, you know, see, you know, these brazen crimes being carried out over and over again.

FLORIDO: Well, I've been speaking with Daniel Miller, a reporter for the LA Times. Thanks for joining us.

MILLER: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.